D.C. Judge Convicts Duke Athlete In '05 Fight

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Collin Finnerty, one of the Duke University lacrosse players charged with raping a stripper at an off-campus party this year, was convicted yesterday on an unrelated assault charge stemming from a street fight last year in Georgetown.

Finnerty, 19, was placed on probation for six months and faces up to 30 days in jail if he gets into trouble during that time -- a typical penalty for a first-time misdemeanor conviction.

The sentence by D.C. Superior Court Judge John H. Bayly Jr. capped two days of testimony and argument about the Nov. 5 fracas, which probably would have been consigned to the courthouse archives if not for Finnerty's subsequent indictment in Durham, N.C.

But when Finnerty was charged with raping the stripper hired for a team party, prosecutors in the District -- who had agreed to drop the misdemeanor assault charge if Finnerty, stayed out of trouble -- said they were going to go forward with the case.

In a packed courtroom, Bayly heard conflicting accounts of a beer-fueled brawl in which Finnerty and his friends lobbed insults at Scott Herndon and Jeffrey Bloxsom. The insults included anti-gay slurs, but prosecutors said they did not believe the attack was a bias crime.

Finnerty's friends, who were arrested that night as well, testified in Finnerty's defense, saying he never struck anyone. Finnerty elected not to testify.

A crowd of family and friends, his mother and father among them, filled a few rows of the courtroom. They listened stoically as dueling portraits of their son emerged. In some, Finnerty, of Garden City, N.Y., was described as an underage bar-hopper who wouldn't walk away from a fight. In others, he was seen as a respectful, well-behaved young man who was an honor student at his Catholic high school and never received a demerit.

Facing 180 days or fewer in jail, Finnerty did not have the option of a jury trial under D.C. law.

When the closing arguments concluded yesterday afternoon, Bayly said the trial had elicited conflicting versions of what triggered the confrontation, who hit whom, and why Finnerty and his friends fled the scene on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

The prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys George P. Varghese and Rhonda T. Redwood, said Finnerty was guilty of assault because of any one of three acts: They said he shoved at least one of the men; he was effectively aiding one of his friends who punched Bloxsom; and he was menacing Bloxsom by throwing punches that stopped just short of striking him.

Bayly did not agree with the prosecution on the first two points, but he did conclude that Bloxsom had been menaced by Finnerty's feints and that Bloxsom rightfully feared for his safety.

"He was trying to get away. He didn't want to prolong this," Bayly said of Bloxsom, 27, who was living in Georgetown at the time and now resides in Georgia.

Finnerty displayed no emotion as the judge delivered his verdict, and afterward he and his supporters filed into waiting rooms. A short time later, he and his attorneys left the courthouse and walked next door to D.C. police headquarters to meet with probation officials.

Steven J. McCool, the lead defense attorney, said that he disagreed with the verdict and that Finnerty would appeal. But he called the sentence "fair" and "lenient."

In the North Carolina case, questions have grown about the credibility of the rape allegations against Finnerty and two teammates and about the conduct of the prosecutor who has been leading the investigation.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company