Local News

Decision in Duke Lacrosse Case Expected

Posted April 11, 2007 5:52 a.m. EDT
Updated April 11, 2007 12:21 p.m. EDT

— Three former members of Duke University's lacrosse team could learn Wednesday whether state prosecutors will drop the remaining charges accusing them of sexually assaulting a stripper at a team party more than a year ago.

"We assume (the state attorney general) is going to announce that the charges will be dismissed. And if that what he announces, we will be very happy, and we will be thankful,"  Wade Smtih, an attorney for charged player Collin Finnerty told WRAL. "But we will not celebrate, because this is a train wreck and an awful tragic year."

The state Attorney General's Office scheduled a 2:30 p.m. news conference to discuss the case. It was unclear whether Attorney General Roy Cooper will be at the news conference at the RBC Center, which can accommodate the crush of national media interested in the case.

A second news conference involving the defendants and their defense attorneys is scheduled for 4 p.m. Duke President Richard Brodhead, Duke lacrosse coach John Danowski and former Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler were also expected to hold announcements later Wednesday.

The Associated Press, citing sources close to the investigation, reported Wednesday morning that all charges would be dropped in the case.

The Attorney General's Office took over the case in January after Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was charged with several ethics violations tied to his handling of the sensational case.

No notice of dismissal had been filed at the Durham County Courthouse by early Wednesday. But a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office told WRAL that the investigation into the case has been completed.

The families of  Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans arrived in Raleigh Tuesday. Officials told WRAL that the three lacrosse players would be present once a decision had been made as to how the prosecution would proceed with the case.

Finnerty's father, Kevin Finnerty, told WRAL Wednesday that he and his family are anxiously awaiting what they hope will be good news.

A grand jury indicted the three players on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense last spring after a woman told police she was assaulted at a March 2006 team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper. All three have steadfastly maintained their innocence, with Evans calling the allegations "fantastic lies."

Nifong dropped the rape charges in December after the accuser changed a key detail in her story. He recused himself a few weeks later after the state bar charged him with violating several rules of professional conduct.

Among the ethics charges, Nifong is accused of withholding potentially exculpatory DNA evidence from the defense and lying to both the court and bar investigators. Nifong faces a June trial before the bar and could be disbarred if convicted.

Nifong faces a Friday afternoon hearing in the ethics case, and he spent Wednesday morning with his attorney in Winston-Salem.

Nifong's recusal put the players' fate in the hands of Cooper, who promised "a fresh and thorough review of the facts" when he took over the case in January.

Smith said the players, their families and the defense attorneys were pleased that the special prosecutors took over the case, saying they brought "sanity to the process."

"People were comforted once (the special prosecutors) came in," Smith told WRAL. "Once Jim Coman and Mary Winstead got involved, there was a feeling of calm that came over the landscape. And (the defendants and their families) felt comfortable -- they still were anxious -- but they were confident that it was being handled well."

“The special prosecutors have looked under every rock, and they have searched for evidence in places even the defense did not,” Smith added.

While Evans graduated the day before he was indicted in May, Duke temporarily suspended sophomores Finnerty and Seligmann in the wake of their arrest. Finnerty was also convicted in July in an unrelated assault case in Washington, D.C., and sentenced to six months of probation.

Finnerty and Seligmann were both invited to return to campus, but neither has accepted. John Danowski, the former coach at Hofstra who took over the Duke program last summer, has also said that both are welcome to continue their lacrosse careers with the Blue Devils.