- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. — Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested on rape charges yesterday in a scandal that has rocked one of America’s elite campuses and raised explosive questions of race, class and the privileged status of college athletes.

The two players were booked and released on bail. District Attorney Mike Nifong said a third player also may be arrested but has not been identified.

“It is important that we not only bring the assailants to justice, but also that we lift the cloud of suspicion from those team members who were not involved in the assault,” Mr. Nifong said.

Lawyers for the two men bitterly assailed the district attorney for bringing the charges. Other attorneys for Duke’s lacrosse players said the two were not even present at the time the rape is said to have occurred.

Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y., are accused of attacking a stripper at a team party at an off-campus house on the night of March 13. They were charged with first-degree rape, sexual offense and kidnapping and were released on $400,000 bail each.

The district attorney would not say what evidence led to the charges. But Mr. Seligmann’s attorney, Kirk Osborn, said, “Apparently it was a photographic identification. And we all know how reliable that is.”

Mr. Finnerty’s attorney, Bill Cotter, said, “The next jury will hear the entire story, which includes our evidence, and we’re confident that these young men will be found to be innocent.”

Bill Thomas, a lawyer for a player who has not been charged, said that one of the two men under indictment did not even attend the party. He would not specify which one, saying only that “multiple witnesses and a commercial transaction” would provide an alibi.

According to a filing made by the district attorney’s office, the residents of the house where the party took place told police that Mr. Seligmann was one of six players who did not attend the party.

Robert Ekstrand, who represents dozens of players, said neither Mr. Seligmann nor Mr. Finnerty was at the party “at the relevant time.”

The indictment represents “a horrible circumstance and a product of a rush to judgment,” Mr. Ekstrand said.

The case has raised racial tensions and heightened the long-standing town-vs.-gown antagonism between Duke students and middle-class, racially mixed Durham. The accuser is black, and all but one of the 47 lacrosse team members are white.

Well before the scandal, the nationally ranked team had a reputation for a swaggering sense of entitlement and boorish behavior that included public intoxication and public urination. After the scandal broke, the university announced an investigation into whether it put up with such behavior for too long. The case has led to the resignation of the coach and the cancellation of the rest of the season.

“Many lives have been touched by this case,” Duke President Richard Brodhead said. “It has brought pain and suffering to all involved, and it deeply challenges our ability to balance judgment with compassion. As the legal process unfolds, we must hope that it brings a speedy resolution and that the truth of the events is fully clarified.”

The university would not comment on any disciplinary action taken against the two men, but said it is Duke practice to suspend students charged with a felony.

Neither Mr. Seligmann nor Mr. Finnerty were among the Duke team members arrested in recent years for such offenses as underage drinking and public urination.

But according to court documents, Mr. Finnerty was arrested six months ago in Georgetown after being accused of attacking a man and making anti-homosexual remarks.

Mr. 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 Tuesday and Sept. 25, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District.

Mr. Seligmann, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, and Mr. Finnerty, a 6-3 sophomore, wore handcuffs when they stepped out of a police cruiser at the Durham County Jail early yesterday. Their early morning surrenders were arranged as part of a deal with Mr. Nifong in which they were bailed out of jail in a matter of hours.

Attorneys for the players have demanded that Mr. Nifong drop the investigation, arguing DNA tests failed to connect any of the team members to the accusations. They have also charged that the accuser was intoxicated and injured when she showed up for the party.

“This is probably the worst miscarriage of justice I’ve seen in 34 years of practice,” said another Seligmann lawyer, Julian Mack.

• Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, Aaron Beard in Durham, and Frank Eltman in Garden City, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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