All Charges Dropped Against 3 at Duke
Thursday, April 12, 2007
RALEIGH, N.C., April 11 -- Rather than simply drop the remaining charges against three former Duke University lacrosse players, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper turned the tables on the prosecutor Wednesday and, after castigating him as a "rogue" who acted out of "bravado," said he could face a criminal investigation for his pursuit of the sexual assault case.
"We believe that these cases were the result of a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations," Cooper said. "There were many points in this case where caution would have served justice better than bravado."
A criminal investigation of Durham District Attorney Michael B. Nifong is a "possibility," he said, noting that the North Carolina bar is already investigating an ethics complaint against him. Nifong did not return calls to his office, but his lawyer, David Freedman, told ABC News that "he pushed the case as long as he did because at that point he believed in this case."
The attorney general's announcement draws to a close a racially charged legal drama that opened with the three white players being vilified as privileged "hooligans" -- Nifong's word -- who had gang-raped a black stripper at an off-campus team party on March 13, 2006.
But after reviewing the case for 12 weeks and interviewing witnesses and the accuser, Cooper's team completely recast the scenario.
There was no credible evidence of an attack -- there was no DNA evidence and no witnesses at the party who could corroborate the accuser's account, Cooper said. The accusation also was not consistent with time-stamped photographs and phone records, he said.
A written summary of the factual findings that investigators relied on to conclude that no attack occurred will be released next week. Cooper added that perjury charges against the accuser were considered but rejected, because she appears to believe in her uncorroborated and sometimes contradictory accounts of a sexual assault.
Hours after the announcement, David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, along with their families and many of their former teammates, gathered at a Raleigh hotel ballroom. Amid hugs, praise for the lawyers and declarations of relief that the more than year-long "nightmare" was over, the players and their attorneys excoriated members of the news media who had jumped to conclusions early on.
They also wondered aloud what must happen to those who are falsely accused but lack the means to hire a phalanx of lawyers and experts.
"It's been 395 days since this nightmare began, and finally the day has come for closure," said Evans, who attended Landon School in Bethesda. "It's painful to remember what we went through in those first days. Its just a testament to all of our character that we never lashed out. . . . To have people in the media relating you to Hitler and other terrible people from history when you have done nothing wrong -- that is character to sit there and take that."
He added: "I hope these allegations don't come to define me. I hope that the way I could be remembered is for sticking up for my name, my family and my team against impossible odds -- the entire country against us."
Asked about whether the players would consider a legal action against Nifong, Evans attorney Joseph Cheshire said all options are on the table.