- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Prosecutors dropped rape charges Friday against three Duke University lacrosse players accused of attacking a stripper at a team party, but the three still face kidnapping and sexual offense charges.

According to court papers filed Friday by District Attorney Mike Nifong, the accuser told a prosecution investigator on Thursday that she now does not know if she was penetrated during the alleged attack.

Nifong had previously said he would rely on the woman’s account because of a lack of DNA evidence against the players.

Lacking any “scientific or other evidence independent of the victim’s testimony” to corroborate that aspect of the case, Nifong wrote, “the State is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense.”

Nifong did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday, and a sign posted on his office door read, “No media, please!”

The accuser, a 28-year-old student at North Carolina Central University, has said three men raped her in a bathroom at a March 13 Duke lacrosse team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper.

The indicted players - Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann - all say they are innocent, and their attorneys have consistently said no sex occurred at the party.

The defense attorneys have repeatedly cited a lack of DNA evidence in the case as proof of their clients’ innocence, while Nifong had said he didn’t need DNA evidence to win convictions.

“It’s highly coincidental,” said defense attorney Joseph Cheshire, that the charges are being dropped a week after the director of a private DNA testing lab acknowledged that he initially, with Nifong’s knowledge, withheld from the defense test results showing none of the players’ DNA was found on or in the accuser’s body.

Testing also showed that genetic material from several males was found on her undergarments and body.

“The reality is, what else could the DA do?” said Stan Goldman, who teaches criminal law, evidence and criminal procedure at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “Once the DNA evidence came out last week, I can’t imagine how they could sustain a rape charge.”

That the accuser had again changed her story hurts Nifong’s case on the other charges, as well, Goldman said.

Defense attorneys have said for months that the woman has told several different versions of the alleged assault, and Seligmann’s attorney has said she has given investigators at least a dozen different versions of the alleged attack.

The defense also has argued that the woman misidentified her alleged attackers in a photo lineup and they have asked the judge to prevent the accuser from identifying the players from the witness stand.

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