Rape charges dropped in Duke case

So what happens now?

By Page Rockwell
Published December 22, 2006 8:16PM (EST)

Prosecutors in the infamous Duke lacrosse case have dropped the rape charges against the three accused players, apparently because the accuser in the case can't remember whether she was penetrated during the alleged attack, the Associated Press reports. The players are still being charged with kidnapping and sexual offenses.

The case, which seems to have been botched from the beginning and has only gotten weirder in recent months, is in a strange place now. Recently reelected Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong has repeatedly asserted in interviews that he's certain that the accused parties were guilty of rape, though he hasn't said much to the press lately. The defense has accused Nifong of withholding DNA test results that seem to exonerate their clients and colluding with the testing lab to keep the results under wraps. Nifong also recently admitted that he'd never interviewed the accuser about the details of the alleged attack. So on one hand, the dropping of the charges would seem to validate the defense charge that Nifong exploited a shaky case to inflame local race and town-gown tensions and get reelected, and the media went along for the ride. But at least as of now, the case is still proceeding. Is the dropping of the rape charges just the first step in backing away from taking this fraught case to trial? Or will the embattled prosecutorial and defense teams continue to do battle over whether some kind of attack took place?

Either way, today's development seems long overdue; if Nifong had talked to the accuser sooner, maybe the players wouldn't have been charged with rape in the first place. As belated as the move is, though, the dropping of the rape charges does seem like a move toward trying the case based on the evidence, and that, at least, is good news.

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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