Local News

Former Lacrosse Players, Attorneys Speak Out

Posted April 11, 2007 7:22 p.m. EDT
Updated April 11, 2007 10:06 p.m. EDT

— Friends applauded. Dozens of teammates cheered. Mothers and father looked on with pride. It felt, for a moment, like a pep rally.

But the three former Duke lacrosse players cleared Wednesday of raping an exotic dancer at a team party insisted there was nothing to celebrate, and they lashed out at both the prosecutor who pursued them and reporters who were enthralled by the prospect they were guilty.

"For everyone who chose to speak out against us before any of the facts were known, I truly hope that you are never put in a position where you have to experience the same pain and heartache that you have caused our families," said Reade Seligmann, one of the three players.

"Your hurtful words and outrageous lies will be forever linked to this tragedy," Seligmann continued. "Everyone will always remember that we told the truth."

Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans and their attorneys saved most of their anger for Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, who took over the case in its early days - and pressed ahead even as evidence mounted that the players were innocent.

Nifong once called them "hooligans" and denounced what he called a "blue wall of silence." He insisted that DNA evidence would identify the guilty, but continued to seek indictments after tests failed to connect any of the players to the accuser. Court documents would later show the players had largely cooperated with investigators from the start.

"There was never a blue wall of silence," Evans said. "Look at the facts of the case, you will see that. It's painful to remember what we went through in those first days."

But as critical as the players were of Nifong and the media, they appeared subdued when compared to their attorneys, who are among North Carolina's most prominent defense lawyers. Leading the charge was Joseph Cheshire, who represented Evans and referred to himself as "the mouth."

"The Duke lacrosse case was prosecuted by a man who had not a care in the world about justice, but only about himself and his personal agenda," Cheshire said. "He is a man who ignored overwhelming evidence of innocence ... and deliberately misled this community, misled the media and even mislead the court in his search for a false conviction."

Seligmann's attorney, James Cooney III, alluded to Nifong as one of the cowards in the entire case, stopping short of passing judgment on the embattled district attorney and his pending legal troubles.

"I'm not going to say anything else about him, because he's got a (North Carolina State) Bar hearing coming up," Cooney said. "I want to give him what he tried to deny Reade -- a fair hearing where he can put on his evidence.

And I've got confidence in the State Bar and confidence in their ability to decide that case fairly."

Nifong's actions in the case could end his career. The State Bar has charged the 29-year veteran of the Durham County prosecutor's office with a series of ethics violations, including making misleading comments about the players and withholding evidence from the defense.

"In the criminal case, the process played out with the appropriate result," Nifong's attorney, David Freedman, said Wednesday. "I'd ask people to let the State Bar process play out as well."

Seligmann, 21, of Essex Fells, N.J., Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y., and Evans, 24, of Bethesda, Md., all come from well-to-do families. And after a year of living in a legal limbo, they questioned what their fate would be if they didn't come from privilege.

"This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed," Seligmann said.

"If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can't imagine what they would do to people do not have the resources to defend themselves.

All three former defendants called for change in the state's legal system, specifically a checks and balance system for district attorneys and in regard to the lack of recording of grand jury hearings.