- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

Rape charges against three Duke University lacrosse players were not supported by testimony or physical evidence, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office said in its final report released yesterday.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper, who assumed the investigation in January amid ethics accusations against Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, said the testimony of the accuser, Crystal Gail Mangum, would have been contradicted by other evidence and by “significantly different versions of events she told over the past year.”

“The re-investigation led to the conclusion there was no credible evidence to support the allegation that the crimes occurred,” he said.

Mr. Cooper said that he and special prosecutors James J. Coman and Mary D. Winstead “believed it was in the best interest of justice to declare these three individuals innocent of these charges.”

Charges against the three players, David F. Evans, 24, of Bethesda; Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y., and Reade W. Seligmann, 20, of Essex Falls, N.J., were formally dropped April 11, at a press conference during which Mr. Cooper — in an unusually terse statement — referred to Mr. Nifong as a “rogue prosecutor” who had pushed his case forward “unchecked” in a “tragic rush to accuse.”

At the press conference, Mr. Cooper said that after reviewing the evidence, interviewing witnesses and talking several times with the accuser — who told Durham police that she was raped in the bathroom of an off-campus house during a team party for which she had been hired to perform as a stripper — he concluded that no attack had occurred.

“There were many points in the case where caution would have served justice better than bravado,” Mr. Cooper said at a press conference. “In the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly. Regardless of the reasons this case was pushed forward, the result was wrong.”

In yesterday’s report, Mr. Cooper said his office conducted new witness interviews, collected new information and compared what was gathered with previous statements and evidence. He said the new investigation led to the conclusion there was “no credible evidence to support the allegation that the crimes occurred.”

Mr. Cooper also said the new investigation revealed “additional weaknesses” in Mr. Nifong’s case based on the files that had already been developed. He said Mr. Nifong’s case rested primarily on a witness whose recollection of the facts were “imprecise and contradictory” — adding that this alone would have made it difficult for a prosecutor to prove the accusations.

“However with additional evidence uncovered in the new investigation, it was clear that there was no credible evidence that these crimes occurred … in Durham that night,” he said.

Mr. Cooper also said the three players were identified through “questionable photographic procedures”; that credible and verifiable evidence demonstrated that they “could not have participated in an attack during the time it was said to have occurred”; and that the accuser’s credibility would have been “suspect based on previous encounters with law enforcement, her medical history and inconsistencies within her statements.”

Rape charges against the three men were reduced in December to kidnapping and sexual assault after a Dec. 21 interview with Miss Mangum during which she said she was not certain Mr. Seligmann had taken part in the assault and was not sure she had been penetrated, a necessary element of rape under North Carolina law.

Miss Mangum, who is black, was hired to dance for 40 Duke lacrosse players at the house where some of them lived. She originally said the three white Duke players beat, strangled, sodomized and sexually assaulted her anally, vaginally and orally. A divorced mother of two children, she was a student at North Carolina Central University at the time of her accusations.

The North Carolina State Bar has accused Mr. Nifong of ethics violations and has set June 12 trial date for hearing, at which he could be suspended or disbarred.

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