Thursday, March 22, 2007

The woman whose rape accusations led to charges against three Duke University lacrosse players was ordered yesterday to answer questions by special prosecutors for North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, fueling speculation that the investigation may be wrapping up.

But Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for Mr. Cooper, told The Washington Times yesterday, “Our review of the case is continuing at this point, and no decision has been made. We don’t expect to make an announcement about this case in the next few days.”

The case, inherited from Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong in December, is being investigated by Special Prosecutors James Coman and Mary Winstead, top trial attorneys in Mr. Cooper’s office. They surveyed the supposed crime scene last week.

David F. Evans, 23, of Bethesda; Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y.; and Reade W. Seligmann, 20, of Essex Falls, N.J., originally were charged with restraining the 28-year-old dancer from North Carolina Central University in a bathroom during an off-campus party and raping her.

Mr. Nifong dismissed the rape charges after a Dec. 21 interview by his office of the woman, during which she said she was not certain that Mr. Seligmann had taken part in the assault and was not sure that she had been penetrated during the attack, a necessary element of the crime of rape under North Carolina law.

The district attorney has since been named by the North Carolina State Bar on ethics violations, including accusations that he withheld DNA evidence from defense attorneys and mislead the court. The State Bar accused Mr. Nifong of “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” in public comments about the case, which he “knew or reasonably should have known would have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing” the investigation.

It said he made “false statements of material fact or law” to the court regarding the players and failed to make a “timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to him that tends to negate the guilt of the accused.”

Questions about Mr. Nifong’s handling of DNA evidence in the case surfaced in December when it was learned that he arranged for tests through a private lab, DNA Security Inc. During a Dec. 15 pretrial hearing, DNA Security Director Brian Meehan said he shared tests results with Mr. Nifong, but a summary report given to the defense did not contain the information that semen found in the accuser’s underpants and in her body did not match any of the Duke players.

Mr. Meehan said the decision not to release the material was “an intentional limitation.”

It was six months after the test was completed before Mr. Nifong informed defense attorneys about the results. During that time, he said in court motions that he was not aware of any information that could exonerate the three Duke players.

The State Bar, whose disciplinary commission can dismiss a complaint, issue a letter of warning, impose an admonition or reprimand, censure, suspend or disbar a lawyer, has set June 12 trial date for Mr. Nifong. If convicted, he could be disbarred.

Mr. Nifong’s investigation created a firestorm on the Duke University campus, resulting, among other things, in the firing of Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler and the cancellation of the team’s spring season.

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