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April 11, 2024

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Two lacrosse players arrested in alleged Duke rape

By Tim Whitmire The Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. – Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested on rape charges yesterday in a scandal that has rocked one of America’s elite campuses and raised explosive questions of race, class and the privileged status of college athletes.

The two players – both graduates of Northern prep schools – were promptly booked and released on bail. District Attorney Mike Nifong said a third player could also be arrested but has yet to be firmly identified.

“It is important that we not only bring the assailants to justice, but also that we lift the cloud of suspicion from those team members who were not involved in the assault,” Nifong said.

Lawyers for the two men bitterly assailed the district attorney for bringing the charges. Other attorneys for Duke’s lacrosse players said the two were not even present at the time the rape is alleged to have occurred.

Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y., are accused of attacking a stripper at a team party at an off-campus house on the night of March 13. They were charged with first-degree rape, sexual offense and kidnapping and were released on $400,000 bail each.

The district attorney would not say what evidence led to the charges. But Seligmann’s attorney, Kirk Osborn, said: “Apparently it was a photographic identification. And we all know how reliable that is.”

Seligmann is “absolutely innocent,” Osborn said. “He’s doing great.” Finnerty’s attorney, Bill Cotter, said: “The next jury will hear the entire story, which includes our evidence, and we’re confident that these young men will be found to be innocent.”

The case has raised racial tensions and heightened the long-standing town-vs.-gown antagonism between Duke students and middle class, racially mixed Durham. The accuser is black, and all but one of the 47 lacrosse team members are white.

Well before the scandal, the nationally ranked team had a reputation for a swaggering sense of entitlement and boorish frat-boy behavior that included public intoxication and public urination. After the scandal broke, the university announced an investigation into whether it put up with such behavior for too long.

The case has led to the resignation of the coach and the cancellation of the rest of the season.

“Many lives have been touched by this case,” said Duke President Richard Brodhead in a statement. “It has brought pain and suffering to all involved, and it deeply challenges our ability to balance judgment with compassion. As the legal process unfolds, we must hope that it brings a speedy resolution and that the truth of the events is fully clarified.”

The university would not comment specifically on any disciplinary action taken against the two men but said it is Duke practice to suspend students charged with a felony.

Both players are products of wealthy New York City suburbs and all-male Roman Catholic prep schools. Finnerty attended Long Island’s Chaminade High School, where 99 percent of the students go on to college. Seligmann went to the exclusive Delbarton School, a lacrosse powerhouse in Morristown, N.J.

“It is our hope and our conviction that the full truth of all that happened that night will vindicate Reade of these charges,” Delbarton’s headmaster, the Rev. Luke L. Travers, said in a statement.

Neither Seligmann nor Finnerty was among the Duke team members arrested in recent years for such offenses as underage drinking and public urination.

Finnerty, however, was charged in Washington with assault after a man told police in November that Finnerty and two friends punched him and called him “gay and other derogatory names.” Finnerty agreed to community service.

Seligmann, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, and Finnerty, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, were in handcuffs when they stepped out of a police cruiser at the Durham County Jail early yesterday. Their early-morning surrenders were arranged as part of a deal with Nifong in which they were bailed out of jail in a matter of hours.

At a brief court appearance, Finnerty stood in jacket and tie as a May 15 date was set for the next hearing in the case. Seligmann waived his right to appear in court and was represented by one of his lawyers.

The district attorney has said that the woman making the allegations, a 27-year-old student and mother of two, was attacked by three men. In a statement, Nifong said he hopes to charge a third person, “but the evidence available to me at this time does not permit that. Investigation into the identity of the third assailant will continue in the hope that he can also be identified with certainty.”

Attorneys for the players have demanded Nifong drop the investigation, arguing that DNA tests failed to connect any of the team members to the alleged rape. They have also charged that the accuser was intoxicated and injured when she showed up for the party.

“This is probably the worst miscarriage of justice I’ve seen in 34 years of practice,” said another Seligmann lawyer, Julian Mack.

Bill Thomas, a lawyer for a player who has not been charged, said that one of the two men under indictment did not even attend the party. He would not specify which one, saying only that “multiple witnesses and a commercial transaction” would provide an alibi.

According to a filing made by the district attorney’s office, the residents of the house where the party took place told police that Seligmann was one of six players who did not attend the party.

Another attorney, Robert Ekstrand, who represents dozens of players, said neither Seligmann nor Finnerty was at the party “at the relevant time.”

The indictment represents “a horrible circumstance and a product of a rush to judgment,” Ekstrand said.

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