Wednesday, April 12, 2006

ATH: Duke Lacrosse Twists and Turns

More DNA tests conducted in Duke rape case
First samples showed no link between lacrosse players and alleged victim
WNCN-TV, Updated: 9:46 a.m. ET April 12, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. - More DNA tests are being conducted in an alleged rape case involving Duke University lacrosse players, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong said Tuesday.

The day after attorneys representing lacrosse team members announced that tests conducted by state forensics technicians found no genetic link between the players and the woman accusing them of rape, Nifong told a community forum that more tests need to be completed before the investigation is complete.

A North Carolina Central University student told police she was beaten and raped while performing as an exotic dancer at a March 13 party attended by lacrosse team members.

No charges have been filed in the case.

Forty-six members of the lacrosse team submitted DNA samples to authorities, and defense attorneys said Monday the fact those samples didn't match evidence taken from the woman should exonerate their clients.

But Nifong dismissed that stance Tuesday during a public forum at N.C. Central.

"It doesn't mean nothing happened. It just means nothing was left behind," he said, noting that is common in sexual assault cases.

Further DNA testing could provide more leads in the investigation, he said.

"I don't think we would be here if it wasn't (a strong case)," Maj. Ron Hodge, the assistant chief of the Durham Police Department, said after the forum.

A number of people at the forum -- the audience was overwhelmingly African-American -- pointedly asked Nifong why none of the lacrosse players has been arrested. A black man accused of a similar crime would have been locked up almost immediately, they said.

"I don't want to arrest the wrong person in any case. I want to arrest the right person and convict the right person," Nifong said, adding that acting too quickly could jeopardize the case.
Nifong also told the audience that at least one suspect in the case was definitively identified for the first time only last week. He didn't elaborate on that comment.

Nifong said he expects the case to go before a grand jury.

N.C. Central Chancellor James Ammons, who moderated the forum, later said in a statement that people still need to wait out the investigation.

"It was our position from the beginning that we needed to be patient and give the legal system an opportunity to conduct this investigation so that justice could be served," the statement said. "Even considering the defense attorneys' announcements about the DNA results, we are still waiting for the judicial system to resolve this matter."

But the defense attorneys continued to press Tuesday for the case to be dropped. They said a second woman who also performed at the lacrosse team party has told them that the accuser never mentioned being attacked inside the house afterward.

The case isn't the first time someone has been wrongly accused of a crime, one defense attorney said.

"Go back in any news archive and look at the men who have been freed from prison, look at the men that have been taken off death row," said Kerry Sutton, who represents one of the lacrosse team's captains. "Mistakes happen. Bad directions are taken by district attorneys; police make mistakes. It happens all the time: False accusation is commonplace."

Sutton believes DNA results prove the accuser's story false. She said that the accuser's fingernails, as well as press-on nails found at the scene, were swabbed for DNA, along with the accuser's entire body.

"I don't believe that the allegations that she made, multiple attacks by multiple people, would leave no signs of DNA," Sutton said. "And there was no sign of any evidence that a male was present anywhere near that women that day."

Meanwhile, many people around Durham hope that the ongoing investigation won't prevent the community from healing the race and class divisions exposed by the case.

"I don't think that either of these schools benefit from this case. The only good that I hope will come from this case is that dialogue starts," N.C. Central student Tolulope Omokaiye said.

"If (the investigation) does show that nothing happened that night, I don't have a problem with that. But there still is a greater racism issue in this community and the entire South that needs to be addressed," Durham resident Stewart Bagwell said.

In the statement he released today, N.C. Central's chancellor said, "This incident has forced us to examine issues relevant to any campus environment: sexism, racism and the need to educate our students about sexual assault and violence against women."

Community members have responded in great numbers to the incidents surrounding the case, holding vigils, forums and other events as a way to express their feelings.

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