Wednesday, April 19, 2006

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — They grew up in privileged surroundings in the suburbs of New York City.

Collin Finnerty of Long Island and Reade Seligmann of New Jersey both come from a world of golf courses and multimillion-dollar homes and were educated at exclusive all-boys Catholic prep schools. Their paths merged after the high school lacrosse stars won admission to Duke University, and continued their athletic and academic careers.

Yesterday, they stood as co-defendants, accused of raping a stripper at an off-campus party in Durham, N.C.

Defenders quickly came forward at both of their high schools. Finnerty, 19, was described as a good student and athlete who was never in any trouble, while 20-year-old Seligmann was remembered as a kid incapable of committing such a heinous act.

“Knowing Reade Seligmann as well as we do here at Delbarton, I believe him innocent of the charges,” said the Rev. Luke L. Travers, headmaster at Seligmann’s $22,500-a-year high school. “The hearts and prayers of our community go out to Reade and his family, the woman who made the accusations, the players on the Duke lacrosse team and all their families.”

At Chaminade High School on Long Island, where Finnerty was among the 1,600 students, his former lacrosse coach said the young man “really was never in any trouble. Basically, more of a quiet kid.”

Jack Moran, the Chaminade lacrosse coach for 28 years, recalled Finnerty as an A student and a good teammate.

“Collin obviously was a very good player,” Moran said before practice. “He was good enough to play at Duke. He was a good student. Obviously, a good enough student to qualify academically for Duke.”

An education at Chaminade cost $6,670 a year in regular tuition, while students in the elite collegiate program paid more than $23,000 annually.

According to court documents, Finnerty was arrested six months ago in Washington, D.C., after a claimed gay-bashing incident. Jeffrey Bloxgom said Finnerty and two of his high school teammates hurled anti-gay insults and punched him repeatedly.

Finnerty entered a diversion program, under which the charges will be dismissed after the completion of 25 hours of community service. Hearings in the case are scheduled for April 25 and Sept. 25, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington.

Both defendants graduated from high school in 2004. There were other similarities in their upbringings.

Finnerty hails from Garden City, N.Y., and lived in a Dutch colonial house on a cul-de-sac. A lacrosse net and equipment were visible in the yard, which abuts a golf course. No one answered the door at the Finnerty home yesterday morning.

Seligmann grew up in well-to-do Essex Fells, N.J., where multimillion-dollar homes also abound and the current mayor grew up with the lacrosse player’s dad.

“Reade Seligmann’s a great kid,” said mayor Edward P. Abbot. “The Seligmanns have been a great Essex Fells family.”

The Seligmanns’ home — a two-story red-brick house with twin white columns — sits about 17 miles west of Manhattan and within 11/2 miles of three golf courses. The 6-foot-1 sophomore was a leader at the high school lacrosse powerhouse Delbarton, winning an award for outstanding athlete when he was a senior.

Essex Fells, with a population of just more than 2,100, has a median household income of $148,000, according to the Census Bureau.

The Seligmanns’ neighbors declined to speak with reporters and called police when the media stepped on their property.

• Associated Press writer Wayne Parry in New Jersey contributed to this article.

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