Local News

Rape Charges Dropped in Duke Lacrosse Case

Posted December 22, 2006 12:25 p.m. EST
Updated December 22, 2006 6:49 p.m. EST

— Defense attorneys called Friday for all charges to be dismissed against three Duke University lacrosse players after prosecutors dropped rape charges against them.

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong said he didn't have enough evidence to proceed with a rape case but said he plans to take the players to trial on kidnapping and sexual offense charges.

Reade Seligmann, 20, Collin Finnerty, 20, and David Evans, 23, were indicted last spring after a North Carolina Central University student told police she was beaten and raped by three lacrosse players while performing as a stripper at a March 13 team party.

The players have denied any wrongdoing in the case, which has split the Durham community in recent months.

"Mr. Nifong, do the honorable thing -- end this case because there isn't a case to bring," defense attorney Wade Smith said.

"It is the ethical duty of a district attorney not to win a case, not to prosecute all cases, but to see that justice is done," defense attorney Joe Cheshire said.

Nifong declined to comment on the dismissal, and his office closed Friday afternoon for a Christmas party.

Duke President Richard Brodhead expressed relief at the dismissal and called on Nifong to turn the case over to an independent investigator.

“Given the certainty with which the district attorney made his many public statements regarding the rape allegation, his decision today to drop that charge must call into question the validity of the remaining charges," Brodhead said in a statement. "The district attorney should now put this case in the hands of an independent party who can restore confidence in the fairness of the process. Further, Mr. Nifong has an obligation to explain to all of us his conduct in this matter."

Duke athletics director Joe Alleva called the dismissal "another step in establishing the entire truth in this matter."

Finnerty's parents also said they were relieved that the rape charges were dropped.

"Dropping this charge is long overdue. Dropping the other charges is long overdue, but we'll take it one step at a time," Kevin Finnerty said.

Maryellen Finnerty said the move was "just more proof of what we've known all along, that this entire case has been built on lies."

The dismissal follows a Thursday meeting between Nifong's investigator and the woman. She told the investigator that she couldn't testify "with certainty" that she was raped, according to the dismissal motions.

"Since there is no scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony that would corroborate specifically (a rape charge), the state is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense," the motions said.

A week ago, defense attorneys disclosed that a report issued in the case initially didn't disclose that the woman had DNA on her from several men, none of which was a member of the lacrosse team.

Cheshire called the fact that the dismissal came days after that disclosure a "transparent coincidence."

"After all these months and all that these young men have been through ... why are they investigating the case now?" Cheshire asked.

"His entire case rises and falls on the statement of the accuser. He has no other evidence," Cheshire said. "Going forward with a case when he knows he has multiple, different, contradictory statements from that person, is that seeing that justice is done, or is that simply trying to fit facts into a prosecution to prosecute it at all costs?"

Nifong has never talked to the woman about the details of the incident, although investigators from his office and the Durham Police Department have interviewed her repeatedly over the past nine months.

In addition to questioning the woman's varying statements, defense attorneys have repeatedly hammered other elements of the prosecution's case, including the DNA report and the photo line-up the woman used to identify the three players.

"There is not a spider web of evidence," Smith said. "We have a bare assertion by a woman that a criminal act occurred. ... We have an assertion and nothing else."

Cheshire expressed frustration that the sexual offense and kidnapping charges still stand against against the players. Those charges carry significant prison time, he said, so the defense will continue preparing to fight those charges in court.

"This case is quite clearly not over," Cheshire said.

Family members of the players and other attorneys said the case needed to be dismissed altogether.

"The state needs to apologize to these three boys, to their families. They need to immediately take dismissals and apologize to the entire community," said Bill Thomas, the attorney for an unindicted lacrosse player.