Prosecutor Refuses to End Duke Lacrosse Probe

The men's lacrosse team at Duke University remains the subject of an investigation into allegations that a woman was sexually assaulted at a party hosted by members of the team. The district attorney in Durham, N.C., says the case is not going away, even though DNA from the players didn't match evidence collected from the accuser. Jessica Jones of North Carolina Public Radio reports.

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The public perception of this next story seems to change every time we learn a little more, so it's worth pointing out that we're still learning. First, dozens of Duke University lacrosse players were suspected of rape. Then, their lawyers announced that DNA tests exonerated them. Now, the district attorney in Durham, North Carolina says he still has a good case. Mike Nifong says he's still investigating, as Jessica Jones reports from North Carolina Public Radio.

Ms. JESSICA JONES (Reporter, North Carolina Public Radio): Yesterday, Nifong sat before hundreds of students and residents at a forum held at North Carolina's Central University, where the alleged victim is a student. He told the crowd that just because no DNA has been found on the woman, that doesn't mean nothing happened, it just means nothing was left behind.

Mr. MIKE NIFONG (District Attorney, 14th Prosecutorial District, Durham, North Carolina): DNA results can often be helpful. But you know, I've been doing this a long time, and for most of the years I've been doing this, we didn't have DNA, we had to deal with sexual assault cases the good old-fashioned way. Witnesses got on the stand and told what happened to them.

Ms. JONES: And that's what Nifong may decide to do. Richard Meyers, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill School of Law, explains what the DA has to consider.

Mr. RICHARD MYERS II (Assistant Professor of Law, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Law): I have an eye witness. What does the eye witness say? Is the eye witness's statement credible? Did the eye witness make the statement identifying the perpetrator close in time? So there's a whole series of things you have to start thinking through.

Ms. JONES: Nifong says he's still waiting for the results of additional DNA tests from the state crime lab. He still has to get a grand jury indictment before he can charge anyone with a felony in the case. A grand jury would hear testimony from witnesses, in this case most likely the police officer who filed the initial report of a rape.

If the grand jury indicted any of the players and the case moved to a courtroom, Myers says that's when the issue of DNA tests would likely come up again.

Mr. MYERS: In a rape case there's a possibility that someone committed a sexual assault without leaving any DNA behind. Experts disagree, and it's likely that there will be expert disagreement, about whether or not that's likely in a particular case. But, there are certainly sexual assaults that occur without DNA being left behind, or that is inadequately collected, for whatever reason.

Ms. JONES: But in this case defense attorneys for the lacrosse players say, according to the woman's statements, DNA should have been found if she was raped the way she says she was. Attorney Joseph Cheshire represents one of the lacrosse team's captains. Cheshire says the woman has been lying about what took place in the house just before the alleged rape occurred, and he believes that's not good for the district attorney's chances, if the case ends up being based on witness testimony.

Mr. JOSEPH CHESHIRE (Attorney): He can go ahead with charges if this woman continues to say what she says, but the evidence is simply not there. And the best thing is, she's given statements, so we'll have those statements to compare the truth with. I'm glad she's given the statements.

Ms. JONES: But some observers say no one should rush to make judgments about what the evidence says, unless the case is before a judge or a jury. Margaret Barrett is the executive director of the Orange County, North Carolina Rape Crisis Center.

Ms. MARGARET BARRETT (Executive Director, Orange County North Carolina Rape Crisis Center): I think that it's important for factual issues that relate directly to that, to be respected, and for media outlets to realize that people putting evidence forward through the media, have their own agendas.

Ms. JONES: Barrett says in cases like this that are under such a microscope, it's hard sometimes, to make sure everyone is treated with dignity. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham.

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