- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

From combined dispatches

RALEIGH, N.C. — Friends applauded. Dozens of teammates cheered. Mothers and fathers looked on with pride. It felt, for a moment, like a pep rally.

But the three Duke lacrosse players cleared yesterday of raping a stripper at a team party insisted that there was nothing to celebrate and lashed out at both the prosecutor who doggedly pursued them and reporters who were enthralled by the prospect of their guilt.

“For everyone who chose to speak out against us before any of the facts were known, I truly hope that you are never put in a position where you have to experience the same pain and heartache that you have caused our families,” said Reade W. Seligmann, one of the three players.

“Your hurtful words and outrageous lies will be forever linked to this tragedy. Everyone will always remember that we told the truth,” he said

Mr. Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David F. Evans no longer face the threat of prison time. But after spending a year vilified as symbols of racism, sexism, and class privilege, they cannot return to their lives of 13 months ago, before the fateful off-campus party.

Mr. Evans has graduated. Mr. Finnerty and Mr. Seligmann were suspended by Duke barely a month after Crystal Gail Mangum made her accusations. Mr. Finnerty’s father told the Associated Press this week that the last year has been “horrific” for his son, who has been doing volunteer work. He is unlikely to return to Duke.

In an often-bitter, I-told-you-so press conference in Raleigh, the three young men and their lawyers accused journalists and the public of disregarding the presumption of innocence and portraying the men as thugs or, in the words of District Attorney Mike Nifong, “a bunch of hooligans.”

Mr. Evans, his voice breaking at one point, said the players were “just as innocent today as we were back then. Nothing has changed. The facts don’t change.”

The Bethesda-raised player also got emotional when thanking coach Mike Pressler, who resigned less than a month after the party, saying his coach sacrificed everything.

“Sixteen years he spent building up a team to fall on a sword so that we could continue as a team at the university he loved,” Mr. Evans said. “We owe him everything.”

At a press conference in Rhode Island, the former Duke coach struggled to contain his emotion when asked about Mr. Evans’ comments.

“A lot was taken from us,” Mr. Pressler said.

Mr. Seligmann also thanked his lawyers, saying, “This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed. If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they’d do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves.”

The three young men come from well-off suburbs, and their families’ legal bills have been estimated as high as $3 million.

One of Mr. Seligmann’s lawyers, Kirk Osborn, did not live to see his client cleared, dying early Sunday after suffering a massive heart attack on Friday. Mr. Osborn’s motions in the case included offering telephone records and security camera images showing that his client was nearly a mile away from the Durham house at the time the woman said he was taking part in the attack.

Mr. Osborn also filed a motion to have Mr. Nifong removed from the case, arguing that the district attorney went after the lacrosse players to win votes.

“We will never forget Kirk and his sacrifices for Reade and for justice,” Mr. Seligmann’s family said. “Kirk’s fight for the truth and for justice in this case met the highest standards of ethics and professionalism and stand in stark contrast to those who condemned Reade.”

But vindication was a long time coming. After initial press reports of the March 13, 2006, incident, Duke’s lacrosse team was denounced by several commentators — including Raleigh News & Observer columnist Ruth Sheehan, who urged the university to “shut down” its lacrosse program. Durham Mayor Bill Bell made a similar demand. The university did exactly that — suspending and then canceling the season for the lacrosse team.

Duke students and faculty members also condemned the lacrosse program. English professor Houston A. Baker Jr. accused the university of fostering a “culture of silence that seeks to protect white, male, athletic violence,” and 88 faculty members signed a full-page ad in the Duke student newspaper calling the incident a “social disaster.”

At one of a string of campus protests, Duke student Meenakshi Chivukula said she was “outraged that legal rights are used to quiet this issue.” According to a Raleigh News & Observer account, a poster at that same demonstration read: “The DNA will talk, even if the cowards of men’s lacrosse won’t.”

Even yesterday, after their vindication, an Associated Press news analysis referred to the three young men as “the face of a distasteful jock culture at Duke.”

The Duke lacrosse team is back on the field and ranked in the top 5. But their coach did not get such a comeback; Mr. Pressler now coaches lacrosse at Division II Bryant University in Rhode Island, a dramatic fall from prominence for a man who in 2005 guided the Blue Devils to the Division I championship game and was named national coach of the year.

Mr. Pressler said yesterday that he had moved on from Duke, but he knew from the outset that his players were innocent. He has co-authored a book about the case “It’s Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case and the Lives It Shattered,” which is scheduled to be published in June.

“It is the same truth today as it was a year ago,” Mr. Pressler said, echoing Mr. Evans. “The injustice, the lies and the myths have been fully exposed.”

As for the accuser, Miss Mangum initially attracted widespread sympathy. But her conflicting stories shattered her credibility.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who took over the case from Mr. Nifong in January and decided yesterday to drop the charges, said she may believe her contradictory accounts and will not face charges.

“If she can keep herself out of the limelight, she can probably over a period of time regain her ability to live in and among the community,” said Woody Vann, a Durham lawyer who once represented her. “People have done worse than this.”

But Mr. Cooper, who harshly criticized Mr. Nifong’s conduct and called the case a “rush to accuse,” said more words were needed.

“I think a lot of people owe a lot of apologies to a lot of people.”

• Staff writers Jerry Seper and David Lipscomb contributed to this report.

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