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Duke Invites Lacrosse Defendants to Return

Two defendants in the Duke lacrosse case have been invited to return to Duke University as students in good standing, the university announced Wednesday.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Two defendants in the Duke lacrosse case have been invited to return to Duke University as students in good standing, the university announced Wednesday.

“We have decided that the right and fair thing to do is to welcome back Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty to resume their studies at Duke for the spring semester," Duke University President Richard Brodhead said in a written statement released Wednesday afternoon.

Both students were barred from attending class last semester while their case made its way through court but were allowed to continue with their academic coursework.

The third defendant in the case, David Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md., graduated from the university in May.

Larry Moneta, vice president of Student Affairs at Duke, said the university has no regrets looking back or moving forward, even though the criminal case is not resolved.

"I think we've been perfectly appropriate," he said. "Dr. Brodhead is very clear that the court activity should be separate from the university decision-making."

Brodhead went on to say in his statement that the validity of the remaining charges were in question.

"Although the students still face serious charges and larger issues require Duke’s collective attention, the circumstances in this case have changed substantially, and it is appropriate that the students have an opportunity to continue their education," Brodhead said.

But Kevin Finnerty told WRAL Wednesday evening that his son wants to get through the criminal process before returning to school.

"I think we're going to need to focus on the serious charges that still exist, and we'll need to leave ourselves the flexibility once we get a successful resolution," he said.

Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y., Seligmann, 20, of Essex Falls, N.J., and Evans were indicted on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree kidnapping in connection with allegations that they raped an exotic dancer at a team party in March.

At a brief news conference Wednesday afternoon, Wade Smith, a Raleigh lawyer representing Finnerty, said the decision "speaks to Duke's integrity" and called it "a positive moment in a case that has seen so many negative moments.

"We're happy about this decision. We think it says good things about the direction of this investigation and good things about our client," Smith said. "We're not looking for apologies today. We're saying to Duke, 'You've done the right thing.'"

Seligmann's Charlotte attorney, James Cooney III, said that Seligmann and his parents are considering their options regarding Duke's offer.

"We are also glad that Duke University has now made it clear that Reade is welcome to return to the university and look forward to the day that he can return to living a normal life and continuing his education as a full-time student," the Seligmann family said in a statement.

Smith said he didn't know when Finnerty would return to Duke but that the student loved the university and his lacrosse teammates.

"When the time comes, Collin looks forward to continuing his education and rejoining the lacrosse team," he said.

Both Seligmann and Finnerty would be eligible to return to the lacrosse team, Duke spokesman Keith Lawrence said. The university could still punish them if they are convicted of any of the pending charges, Duke University Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said in a memo to Brodhead recommending that the players be allowed to return.

“It’s a step forward, but because charges still exist, this remains a complex issue for the students and their families,” said John Danowski, Duke head lacrosse coach.

Teammates seem to feel no ambiguity about their colleagues.

“It's no secret how much we want them back. Not only are they good players, but we just miss them as great friends of ours,” said Casey Carroll, a senior and a defenseman on the lacrosse team.

"We're all ecstatic," assistant lacrosse coach Kevin Cassesse said. "I think it's a great statement from Brodhead and the university, and in my opinion, it was the right thing to do."

Last month, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong dropped the rape charge against all three players after the accuser told an investigator that she could not testify with certainty that she was raped.

Wednesday's developments come one day after Nifong was sworn in to serve a four-year term. Defense lawyers have said Nifong pressed forward in the divisive case for political gain.

Nifong has been criticized for weaknesses in the case, including a lack of DNA evidence, an apparent alibi for Seligmann and the shaky credibility of the 28-year-old accuser.

Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans have maintained their innocence, with Evans calling the charges "fantastic lies" the day he was indicted in May. Their lawyers have called on Nifong to drop the remaining charges.

The case goes again before a judge on Feb. 5 when the defense is expected to ask that the results of a photo lineup in which the accuser identified the players be thrown out. Without her identification, experts say, Nifong might have to drop the other charges.

"We have a feeling that the events of the past three or four weeks give people a sense that there is a developing view in the community that these boys are innocent," Smith said Wednesday.