Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The travesty of the Duke University lacrosse case is descending to absurd depths, mostly because North Carolina’s Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong is up to his neck in muck and has no choice but to cling to the varied recollections of the accuser without the benefit of DNA evidence.

Actually, there was DNA evidence, but none linking the three players to the woman. The three — Reade Seligmann of Essex Fells, N.J., Collin Finnerty of Garden City, N.Y., and David Evans of Bethesda — seemingly became ensnarled in the case because of an egotistical district attorney with a political agenda.

This was the story with long legs last spring. It so fit the liberal sensibilities of the old media: a black accuser and three white defendants of wealth and privilege. Perhaps it fit the D.A.’sthinking as well, and it undoubtedly played to his professional advantage.

The three students were pilloried in the press because of their race, family lineage, private-school backgrounds and the so-called tension that exists between elitist Duke and the working-class community around it.

They were seen as guilty. And if not, it did not really matter. The case tapped into more important issues and prompted a national discussion stuffed with stereotypes, only these were thestereotypes of the wealthy, of mommy and daddy coming to the rescue of the spoiled and pampered.

The woman’s story had holes in it from the start. And she had a lot of stories, along with a system bent on enabling her to come up with a plausible scenario. She was granted a self-serving photo lineup and the cooperative ears of investigators who could not add one contradiction with another and come up with the slightest amount of skepticism.

The woman’s story was strained even further by the sworn statement of a taxi driver who was ferrying one of the accused to an automated teller machine and a fast-food restaurant at the time the attack was said to have occurred.

The woman’s partner in exotic dancing had no trouble being skeptical in an interview on “60 Minutes.” She saw no hints of trauma from the accuser. She saw no indication that anything was amiss, which you might expect from someone who claimed to have been raped repeatedly by three animals.

Mr. Nifong had a personal need to persist in his belief because of the November election and the black vote so essential to his mission. He won the election, the first he ever had to win after being appointed to the post the previous year.

He finally got around to dropping the rape charges against the three last week after the accuser said she no longer could be certain she was raped, if she ever was certain.

Yet Mr. Nifong refused to drop the sexual offense and kidnapping charges against the defendants. To do so at this point would invite a thorough examination of his actions the past nine months and possible repercussions.

So all he really has at this point is the shaky word of an imaginative witness. That is not much on which to prosecute a case.

The outrage is fairly subdued now, limited mostly to the bloggers on the Internet.

The initial pangs of liberal guilt that overtook Duke’s higher-ups and the activist branch of its faculty have subsided.

They can cling to the notion that theirs is a fairly special campus, although there was nothing special about the rush-to-judgment actions of the university: the cancellation of the rest of the lacrosse season, accepting the resignation of the coach and all but convicting the three defendants.

They connected the dots of race, class and gender and made their pedestrian conclusions, not unlike the talking heads on cable TV.

The lacrosse team party gone bad was a poor idea, no doubt.

Since then, however, the thought processes of those in prominent positions have been equally poor.

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