Duke DNA: No match

Now what?


Lynn Harris
April 11, 2006 11:19PM (UTC)

Well, there may be some lucky winners over at WagerWeb.com, which, classily, took bets on the number of DNA matches that would be made in the Duke lacrosse team sexual assault investigation. Turns out, according to lawyers for the accused, that that number is zero. No matches at the scene of the alleged crime, no matches on the body of the accuser.

What does this mean? Quite a few things, possibly, none of them awesome for anyone involved. First, it gives the prosecution an uphill climb, though by no means an impossible task. Remember, as Durham County's chief prosecutor, Mike Nifong, told the Associated Press, 75 to 80 percent of all sexual assault cases offer no DNA evidence. "DNA results can often be helpful, but you know, I've been doing this a long time, and for most of the years I've been doing this we didn't have DNA," he said. "We had to deal with sexual assault cases the good old-fashioned way. Witnesses got on the stand and told what happened to them."

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Still, as Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman points out in the same article, "Isn't the absence of DNA evidence, given the way the victim has described the crime, in and of itself almost enough to raise a reasonable doubt? That's all the defense has to do."

So one possibility -- possibility! -- is that the guys did it, or something felonious (remember where four of the accuser's acrylic fingernails were found. Hint: Not on her hand), and they will not get away with it. Another possibility -- now a bit stronger than it used to be -- is that they did do it, and they will get away with it.

Yet another possibility, of course, is that they didn't do it. And that -- for reasons that, while not highly defensible, are likely more complicated than "because that's what bitches do" -- the accuser is not telling the truth.

Obviously, this one's also quite bad for everyone involved. Including the players, of course, and including future accusers who are telling the truth -- yet who may be automatically presumed to be just "pulling a Duke" (and who, given all that, may decide not to come forward in the first place). To be sure, women's testimonies have been recanted or proved wrong in the past, and it's not like all warranted rape convictions have ground to a halt. But still, in a case this high profile, it'd set yet another damaging precedent.

No matter what its outcome, we can at least hope that this situation -- though we could have done without it -- will stir up legal and cultural questions that needed to be asked. And we can also hope that the media, and people on all sides, can withhold definitive judgment until one is returned by a court.


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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