A Duke case update

The accuser is pregnant, early-admission applications to Duke are down and the defense team wants the Durham police's rigged lineup thrown out of court.


Page Rockwell
December 16, 2006 3:14AM (UTC)

This week brought a slew of developments regarding the rape allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team. Earlier in the week, defense lawyers filed court papers indicating that though lab testing had found DNA from several men in the accuser's body and on the underwear she wore on the night of the alleged attack, none was from any member of the lacrosse team. The testing was apparently performed in a private lab at the request of the prosecution, and defense attorneys complain that the results weren't included in a previous case report they received from the district attorney's office. It's tough to know whether to trust the accusations from the prosecution or the defense in such a public, highly charged case, and it's generally agreed that the presence or absence of DNA evidence isn't typically the deciding factor in rape cases. Still, this seems like (more) potentially sketchy behavior on the part of the prosecution.

And speaking of sketchy behavior on the part of the prosecution, earlier today a video of the infamous lineup the accuser used to identify her alleged attackers surfaced, demonstrating that the accuser had difficulty with the process and that, in a decision that has been widely criticized by legal experts, the Durham police only included photos of lacrosse players in the lineup. It's pretty obvious that this process didn't give the players a fair shake; Gary Wells of the American Psychology and Law Society told ABC News, "There should have been people mixed in there who you knew clearly were not at the party, so that if the witness were to have picked one of them, you would know instantly that there's a credibility problem." Not surprisingly, the defense doesn't want the lineup admitted as evidence in the case.

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Also today came the news that the accuser in the case is pregnant; her baby is due in early February, according to embattled Durham D.A. Mike Nifong. A judge agreed to a defense request that a paternity test be performed on the baby, to confirm that none of the accused players is the father, though everyone already agrees that none of the accused is likely to be the father, and Nifong says he thinks the accuser got pregnant a few weeks after the alleged attack. Some will likely say that no rape survivor would have sex so soon after being assaulted, so the pregnancy is proof that the accuser is lying; we're not of that opinion, or generally of the opinion that there is any one way in which rape survivors behave. But the pregnancy revelation does add to the general sense of tabloidesque strangeness surrounding the case.

The last of today's revelations is that early applications for admission to Duke are down about 20 percent from previous years, and the case is believed to be a factor in the drop.

A couple of other developments in the case since we checked in last: In late October, Nifong was widely criticized after he admitted that he'd never interviewed the accuser about the facts of the case. At the end of October, the lacrosse team's only black player, Devon Sherwood, spoke in support of his accused teammates, telling "Good Morning America" that he thought his fellow players were being found guilty in the court of public opinion because of stereotypes about privileged white guys. Regarding the allegation that some players at the party yelled racial slurs at the accuser and her fellow dancer, he said, "If it is in fact true, it's disgusting, [but] everybody's human." About allegations that Nifong used the case to inflame race tensions in Durham and get reelected, Sherwood was affirmative, saying "he's used ... the black people of Durham -- and the white people of Durham as well."

Also in late October, also in an interview with "Good Morning America," Kim Roberts, the second exotic dancer at the March 13 off-campus party, said that the accuser in the case said to Roberts, "Go ahead, put marks on me" following the alleged attack. It's hard to know what to make of this -- Roberts also said the accuser was very impaired and "talking crazy," and that Roberts had been pushing the accuser out of her car -- but it's distressing nonetheless.

On Nov. 7, Nifong was narrowly reelected as Durham County D.A., with 49 percent of the vote.

If these varied events are any indication, the courtroom theatrics and fireworks that nearly always accompany such a messy and high-profile case will definitely accompany this one, provided the case makes it to trial. The trial is still slated for sometime this spring.

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Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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