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Old December 23rd, 2006, 09:31 AM
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Rape charges against Duke lacrosse players dropped

Rape charges against Duke lacrosse players dropped

BY JOHN VALENTI
Newsday Staff Writer

December 22, 2006, 4:29 PM EST

New questions were raised Friday about the remaining criminal charges against three Duke University lacrosse players, with the president of the university saying a prosecutor's decision to drop rape charges throws the rest of the case into doubt.

District Attorney Mike Nifong, who has been at the center of a firestorm over the charges his office brought in the case, dropped the rape accusations Friday against the players, including one from Garden City, who are accused of attacking a stripper during an off-campus team party in March.



Legal experts said the decision dealt a serious blow to a controversial criminal case. Even Duke president Richard Brodhead weighed in.

"Given the certainty with which the district attorney made his many public statements regarding the rape allegation, his decision today to drop that charge must call into question the validity of the remaining charges," Brodhead said Friday in a statement.

Nifong left standing kidnapping and sex offense charges that could bring more than 30 years in prison for the three defendants. He did not specify in his what sex acts prosecutors now believe occurred.

Clamor for an end

The decision to drop the rape charges brought defense attorneys in front of television cameras. At a news conference in Durham, Wade Smith, attorney for Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, called on Nifong to bring the entire case to a close.

"Mr. Nifong, if you are listening: Do the rest of this. Do the honorable thing. End this case," Smith said.

The attorneys, relatives of the three players and Duke alumni following the case, said they were elated over the dropped charges, although still apprehensive about the remaining ones.

Standing before a bank of television cameras in front of his house, Kevin Finnerty, the father of Collin Finnerty expressed relief.

"It's a great first step that this rape charge has been dismissed. It's long overdue," he said. Speaking of Nifong, he added, "It's been pretty obvious to us from the outset that this man has been using this case for his own personal and political gain."

DA's new decision

In court papers, Nifong said he was dropping the rape charges because the exotic dancer, a 28-year-old student at North Carolina Central University in Durham, changed her story Thursday and told investigators she now does not know if she was penetrated vaginally during the alleged attack.

He wrote that, lacking any "scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony" to corroborate the rape charge, "the State is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense."

Nifong did not respond to calls seeking comment Friday and a sign posted on his office door read, "No media please!" But as he left, he said, "All the documents have been filed, and they speak for themselves."

Attorneys for Finnerty and the other indicted players -- Dave Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md., and Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J. -- have said since March that no one had sex at the party and that all the evidence released so far, including the DNA tests, prove it.

This new doubt in a case riddled with questions is a far cry from the accuser's earlier statements, in which she told Nifong's investigators that the players raped her, vaginally, anally and orally, in a bathroom during a team party on March 13 where she was hired to perform as a stripper.

Last week, court officials released test results that showed that there was DNA on the woman's underwear and body, but none of it belonged to the accused players.

In Durham, the case has raised questions of race, as Duke attracts a largely white student body and because there is just one black player on the team. The accuser, who made no comment Friday, is black.

One black community leader said he didn't think the case was over.

"Something happened, something illegal," said Duane L. Hoskins of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.

-- Staff Writer Deborah S. Morris contributed to this story, which was supplemented by The Associated Press.
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Old December 23rd, 2006, 09:32 AM
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