Thursday, April 20, 2006

ATH:CompLAX

Two Duke Athletes Charged With Rape and Kidnapping
By DUFF WILSON and JULIET MACUR, The New York Times, April 19, 2006

DURHAM, N.C., April 18 — Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested Tuesday in a case in which a woman said she was raped at a team party by three players. But defense lawyers said at least one of the players had a strong alibi backed by receipts to show he was not at the party at the time.

Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, 19 of Garden City, N.Y., both sophomores, were charged with first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and kidnapping. The Durham County district attorney, Michael B. Nifong, said in a statement that he was continuing to try to confirm the identity of a third suspect.

"We were actually hoping that she would pick names that we know were not at the party, and it would appear she did exactly that," said Kerry Sutton, the lawyer for a team captain who had leased the house where the woman was hired to dance at a March 13 party.

Shortly before 5 a.m., Mr. Seligmann and Mr. Finnerty arrived at the Durham County Detention Facility, handcuffed, in a deputy sheriff's car. They were photographed and fingerprinted. They appeared before a magistrate, posted $400,000 bonds and were released. They are set to appear in court again on May 15.

The surrender procedure had been negotiated with Judge Ronald L. Stephens of Superior Court, who sealed their indictments on Monday.

The police searched the dormitory rooms of Mr. Finnerty and Mr. Seligmann for two hours Tuesday night, said Taggart White, a resident assistant at the dormitory where both players live.

The players' lawyers insisted the players were innocent.

Ms. Sutton said Mr. Nifong, in meetings with lawyers, had cleared her client, Matt Zash, and the team captains Dan Flannery and Bret Thompson, and a few others. Mr. Nifong did not comment Tuesday except by written statement.

Mr. Finnerty appeared in court to hear a reading of the charges, while Mr. Seligmann's lawyer waived his presence. In a striking scene, Mr. Finnerty and his father, Kevin, a prominent Wall Street executive who is on the board of Newcastle Investment Corporation, sat for more than 30 minutes near the middle of the courtroom, each poised and looking straight ahead. They were surrounded by dozens of cameras while Judge Stephens conducted a sentencing hearing for a convicted child molester whose teenage victim testified how much he had hurt her and how much she hated him.

When his case was called, Mr. Finnerty came to the front, signed a paper and stood with hands clasped. His only words were "I am" in a loud, clear voice when the judge asked if he was Collin Finnerty.

His lawyer William J. Cotter told reporters: "The grand jury, as you know, has indicted him. They hear one side of the story. They almost always indict. The next jury will hear the entire story, which includes our evidence. We're confident that these young men will be found to be innocent."

Kirk Osborn, a lawyer who said he was hired Monday to represent Mr. Seligmann, told reporters: "This kid is just an honorable kid, never done anything wrong in his life. He is absolutely innocent and we intend to show that sooner rather than later."

At least one of the two players charged will be able to show an A.T.M. receipt and a record that he called a restaurant to order food and picked it up before the alleged assault, according to a defense lawyer involved in the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the charged players were not clients.

Julian Mack, a lawyer for Mr. Seligmann until Monday, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Seligmann had an excellent alibi, which the district attorney had never asked about.

"The evidence will clearly show that there is no way he could have been at that place at that time," Mr. Mack said. He declined to be more specific.

A court filing by the district attorney's office on March 23 indicated that Mr. Seligmann was one of five players who investigators had been told were not at the party.

Mr. Mack said he had no idea Mr. Seligmann was a prime suspect until a phone call saying he would be indicted Monday.

Ms. Sutton said: "Before yesterday I had never even heard Mr. Seligmann's name mentioned. That was completely out of the blue."

Ms. Sutton said Mr. Nifong had told defense lawyers that the accuser was 100 percent certain of two identifications and 90 percent certain of a third. Defense lawyers have said results of DNA tests failed to link any of the players with the woman.

"It had been my hope to charge all three of the assailants at the same time, but the evidence available to me at this moment does not permit that," Mr. Nifong, a Democrat who was appointed to the post but who is now running for election, said in a statement.

The woman, a 27-year-old single mother of two and a student at a nearby university, is black. She said she had been attacked by three white players.

Mr. Seligmann and Mr. Finnerty were apparently suspended from Duke on Tuesday, two weeks before final exams. Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, issued a statement saying that the university issues interim suspensions when students are charged with felonies but that he could not discuss the case further because of a student privacy law.

Last fall, Mr. Finnerty was arrested and charged with assaulting a man in the Georgetown section of Washington. Mr. Finnerty and two former high school teammates were arrested Nov. 5, when, according to court records, they punched a man "in the face and body, because he told them to stop calling him gay and other derogatory names."

Mr. Finnerty entered a diversion program, which means the charges against him would be dismissed upon completion of 25 hours of community service and if he stayed out of trouble, said his lawyer on that case, Steven J. McCool.

Lawyers will discuss the assault case, and perhaps how the rape charges may affect it, at a previously scheduled hearing in Washington on Tuesday, said O. Benton Curtis III, an assistant United States attorney assigned to Mr. Finnerty's case.

The North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. announced Tuesday that it was forming a committee to monitor the district attorney's continuing investigation, court proceedings and defense lawyers in the case.

The disparity of wealth between the players and their accuser, who was working her way through college as a stripper, is stark.

Mr. Finnerty and Mr. Seligmann grew up in million-dollar homes in affluent communities and attended all-boys Roman Catholic prep schools.

Soon after the arrest, a statement supporting Mr. Seligmann popped up on the Web site of his alma mater, Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J.

At Chaminade High School, a little over an hour away in Long Island, Jack Moran, the coach of the school's lacrosse team, said Mr. Finnerty was "never any trouble here."
In February, Mr. Seligmann was interviewed by The Chronicle, Duke's campus newspaper, about the recent implementation of a stricter steroid policy at the university.

"I think that Duke is always in the limelight, and its athletes have to be held to higher standards," he said.

Defense lawyers for the players have said there was no rape and no sex at the party.
They have tried to discredit the woman by saying she was drunk and injured before the party, an account denied by the woman's father and a second dancer hired for the party.

Duff Wilson reported from Durham, N.C., for this article, and Juliet Macur from New York. Viv Bernstein contributed reporting from Durham, and Ann Farmer from Garden City, N.Y.

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