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Playing Defense
Farrell Evans
April 17, 2006
Lawyers for Duke's lacrosse team build a case that the players aren't guilty of rape
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April 17, 2006

Playing Defense

Lawyers for Duke's lacrosse team build a case that the players aren't guilty of rape

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From March 23, the day the news broke that a 27-year-old African-American exotic dancer said she had been raped 10 days earlier by three white members of the Duke lacrosse team after performing at a party, the Durham County prosecutor seemed to be the one shaping the case in the court of public opinion. Michael Nifong said that the woman's injuries were consistent with her story and that he was convinced that a sexual assault had occurred. Outraged Duke students and faculty as well as Durham citizens, perhaps familiar with the team's inglorious record of excessive drinking and obnoxious behavior, staged protest marches. They vowed to return every week to the house at 610 North Buchanan Blvd., where the alleged rape had taken place, until the case was resolved. Nifong, who is up for reelection on May 2, had DNA samples collected from 46 white lacrosse players and vowed to bring justice. Then, last week, the defense lawyers swung into action.

On Sunday, Butch Williams, a lawyer for Daniel Flannery, a team captain, told SI that eight digital, time-stamped photos taken at the party show the accuser was injured when she arrived at the house. (As of Monday neither prosecutors nor SI had seen the photos.) Williams said another picture shows Flannery, 22, helping the alleged victim into a car at 12:41 a.m. The woman appears to be intoxicated, Williams says, and doesn't appear to have been the victim of an attack. Then on Monday, the big blow to the prosecution: Defense lawyers gathered in front of the Durham County Judicial Building to announce that the test results were back--and they showed no signs of the players' DNA on the alleged victim's body or clothing.

No charges have been filed, and as SI went to press Nifong had not said whether he intended to pursue the case in spite of the DNA news. In the meantime the incident has left the Duke lacrosse team in shambles. Their season was canceled, and on April 5 Mike Pressler stepped down after 16 years as head coach. His resignation came hours after word got out that one of his players, sophomore Ryan McFadyen, 19, had sent an e-mail shortly after the alleged rape saying he would invite strippers to an apartment and planned "on killing the bitches as soon as [they] walk in." (McFadyen received an interim suspension from the school.) Even if the legal case soon ends, the hard work at Duke may be just beginning.

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