Two Duke Players Arrested; Defense Says Athletes Not at Scene

AMES ALEXANDER, SHARIF DURHAMS and DAVID PERLMUTT
Knight Ridder Tribune Via The Arbiter Online

Hours after two Duke lacrosse players were arrested in connection with a rape investigation that has roiled Durham and made national headlines, defense lawyers said Tuesday they’ll be able to prove the students charged weren’t with the accuser at the time she claimed she was assaulted.

“In the upcoming weeks, the lawyers for these two students are going to be able to provide objective evidence that demonstrates they were not capable of committing any sexual offense,” said Charlotte lawyer Pete Anderson, who represents a player who hasn’t been charged.

“This will include receipts and other records demonstrating that they weren’t present at the house at the time when the assault was allegedly taking place.”

Anderson said he has learned this in the course of representing his client and talking to other defense lawyers, but he and other attorneys said they can’t yet elaborate on the evidence collected.

Following the arrests of lacrosse players Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann on Tuesday, authorities said they are still pressing an investigation into a third possible suspect in the case.

In a statement, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong said he had hoped to charge “all three of the assailants at the same time, but the evidence available to me at this moment does not permit that. Investigation into the identity of the third assailant will continue, in the hope that he can also be identified with certainty.”

Finnerty and Seligmann were released on $400,000 bond early Tuesday, and the two men had preliminary court hearings. Both were charged with first-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense and first-degree kidnapping.

University officials wouldn’t say whether they would suspend Finnerty and Seligmann, but noted it’s their policy to issue an interim suspension when a student is charged with a felony.

Seligmann, a Duke sophomore from Essex Fells, N.J., did not appear at his court hearing. He was represented by his attorney, Kirk Osborn.

Finnerty, a sophomore from Garden City, Long Island, N.Y., made a brief court appearance. The next court date for each man will be May 15.

In November, Finnerty and two friends were arrested in Washington, D.C., accused of punching a man who asked them to stop calling him gay. The charge is pending.

Bill Cotter, an attorney representing Finnerty, said, “They (the grand jury) only hear one side of the story. We’re surprised anybody got indicted, quite frankly.”

Osborn declined to say whether his client was at the party when the alleged attack took place.

But Raleigh attorney Joe Cheshire, who represents a player who hasn’t been charged, said evidence that defense lawyers have collected so far makes it clear that the two students “could not have been where she says they were.”

Finnerty and Seligmann had no contact with the accuser at the party, Cheshire said. “Nobody would have ever guessed these two,” he said.

Victim’s Story Questioned

Finnerty and Seligmann live in the same Duke residence hall, along with several other lacrosse players. The accuser in the case, a 27-year-old mother of two who is enrolled at N.C. Central University, has alleged that three Duke lacrosse players raped, sodomized and choked her at an off-campus party where she was hired to perform as an exotic dancer last month.

Nifong has said he believes the woman was raped. Nurses who examined the woman found injuries consistent with a sexual assault, he has noted.

But defense lawyers maintain there’s no truth to the allegations.

Anderson said he understands the accuser didn’t identify her alleged assailants until three or four weeks after the party when she reviewed photos of Duke lacrosse players. He said that delay, coupled with the accuser’s apparent intoxication during the party, make her identification of assailants questionable.

Anderson, recalling his days as a federal prosecutor, said that “if someone brought me a case based on eyewitness identification, made a month after the event by a witness who was intoxicated, I would throw it out in a heartbeat.”

No DNA from any of the 46 players tested has been found on the woman or her clothing.

Coach Warned Last Year

It’s not the first time Duke’s lacrosse players have roused the concerns of university officials.

In October 2004, the university found that nearly half of the lacrosse team’s members had come before the judicial affairs office, according to Sue Wasiolek, Duke’s dean of students. Many of the violations involved alcohol consumption, she said.

“A significant number of students seemed to be engaging in disorderly, disruptive behavior,” Wasiolek said.

According to the Durham Herald-Sun, the disciplinary review prompted the university’s athletics director to warn lacrosse coach Mike Pressler that his team was “under the microscope” and that players needed to improve their conduct.

Students Wary

On Duke’s Gothic-style campus Tuesday, many students appeared eager for the media to leave, but hungry to find out what really happened.

Security guards stationed near a dormitory where many lacrosse players live kept reporters away from residents. Draped along the ground floor of one dorm building was a banner reading, “We support Duke Lax. Innocent until proven guilty.”

At Bryan Center, Duke’s student union, students sat in groups studying, eating lunch and chatting. But when news of the arrests flashed on TVs around 1:30 p.m., the room fell silent as the students watched.

Clark Jones, a graduate student from Atlanta, said he and his classmates are concerned that the scandal may tarnish the university’s reputation among employers.

At N.C. Central University, where the accuser is enrolled, students voiced divergent opinions about how events have unfolded.

Freshman Reginald Rogers of High Point said the players should have been arrested long before Tuesday.

But student Mike Silver of Durham, who has heard the case discussed in his law classes, said: “These are still allegations. And we should let the process carry on and not continue to rush to judgment.”