Tests clear Duke players, lawyers say

April 11, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

Defense attorneys for Duke University lacrosse players implicated in the alleged rape of a 27-year-old stripper said yesterday that results of DNA testing failed to link the players with any sexual assault.

"No DNA material from any young man was present on the body of this complaining woman," said defense attorney Wade Smith of the results that were delivered by the North Carolina state crime lab to local police and prosecutors yesterday.

Prosecutor Mike Nifong said that he still has faith in the accuser's version of events and that the investigation will continue, according to The Raleigh News & Observer.

The dancer, who is a student at nearby North Carolina Central University, said she and another woman were hired to perform at a March 13 team party at a rental home attended by the lacrosse players and that three men dragged her into a bathroom where she was choked, raped and sodomized.

Defense attorney Joe Cheshire, who represents one of the team captains, said the report indicated that investigators took samples from all over the women's body, including under her fingernails, and from her possessions and clothing. Samples for matching were taken from 46 players.

So far, no charges have been filed, but Nifong, who did not dispute the defense attorney's characterization of the DNA report, remained resolute.

"I believe a sexual assault took place," he said yesterday, according to the Raleigh newspaper.

Absence of proof

Ruth E. Ballard, a forensic DNA consultant who teaches biological sciences at California State University, Sacramento, said such a finding makes prosecution harder but not impossible.

"It doesn't prove that these young men didn't commit a crime; they could have been wearing condoms and just because there wasn't a presence of semen doesn't mean that there wasn't penetration," said Ballard, who has been an expert witness in rape cases.

"It does mean that there is not going to be strong scientific evidence and that the prosecution is going to have to lean on circumstantial evidence," Ballard added.

That circumstantial evidence could include evidence of trauma, such as extracted hair, and the testimony of others who may have been close enough to see or hear what was happening, Ballard said.

Help for defense

Stan Goldman, who teaches criminal law, evidence and criminal procedure at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, also said the DNA findings clearly help the defense.

"Isn't the absence of DNA evidence, given the way the victim has described the crime, in and of itself almost enough to raise a reasonable doubt?" Goldman told the Associated Press. "That's all the defense has to do."

The allegations have reverberated throughout the Duke and North Carolina Central campuses and the Durham community as issues of race, class and privilege have been debated. The alleged victim is black and the three men she has accused are white. The Duke administration has canceled the team's season and lacrosse coach Mike Pressler resigned after 16 years at the school.

Inflaming feelings was the revelation last week that one lacrosse player had sent an e-mail shortly after the party saying that he wanted to kill and skin strippers. That player has been suspended but is not one of the three named in the assault.

Yesterday, defense attorneys said that the DNA results strongly supported their clients' innocence. Cheshire said that even if a condom were used, some scientific evidence indicative of an assault would show up.

"The experts will tell you that if there was a condom used they would still be able to pick up DNA, latex, lubricant and all other types of things to show that - and that's not here," he said.

Before the DNA findings were released, Nifong said he would have other evidence with which to press the case.

Yesterday, the defense publicly urged the prosecutor to drop the case.

"He doesn't have to do it," defense attorney Smith said of filing charges. "He is a man with discretion. He doesn't have to do it, and we hope that he won't."

But the prosecutor did not seem inclined to do that yesterday.

"I'm not saying it's over," he said, according to the Raleigh newspaper. "If that's what they expect, they will be sadly disappointed."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

The Associated Press and the Raleigh News & Observer contributed to this article.

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