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No DNA Match in Duke Case

Lacrosse players' lawyers say that test results show none of the 46 men are linked to the alleged rape. A district attorney says he is not dissuaded.

April 11, 2006|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

DURHAM, N.C. — Crime lab tests have found no DNA evidence linking any of 46 Duke University lacrosse players, all of whom are white, to the alleged gang rape of a black woman at a team party last month, the players' attorneys said Monday.

The tests, ordered by prosecutors, have become a focal point in a highly charged case that has sparked angry debate over racial tensions and the uneasy relationship the prestigious private school has with the community.

Dist. Atty. Mike Nifong indicated to one newspaper that he would continue to pursue the case. He released the DNA results Monday afternoon to the attorneys, who held an impromptu news conference on the courthouse steps.

They said no DNA from the players matched samples taken from the body and clothing of the accuser, a student from nearby North Carolina Central University who had been hired for the party as an exotic dancer.

"We hope that with this long-awaited test, with these results ... that Mr. Nifong will announce that he is not going to pursue this case further," said Wade Smith, one of the lawyers for the athletes. "All of us hope this community can begin to heal."

No one has been charged, but Nifong said he was not dissuaded by the test results.

"I believe a sexual assault took place," Nifong told the News & Observer of Raleigh on Monday. "I'm not saying it's over. If that's what they expect, they will be sadly disappointed."

The players, who in an earlier statement had called the accusations "totally and transparently false," were advised not to speak with reporters, their attorneys said.

The university issued a brief statement.

"We have to have confidence that the police investigation will ultimately reveal the truth," the statement said. "While the criminal allegations in this case are extremely serious, it is important to remember that no one has been charged and that in our system of law people are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

As they announced the test results, the athletes' lawyers acknowledged that the events of March 13 had raised troubling issues within the community.

"There are some tough questions that need to be asked here," said Joe Cheshire, who represents one of the team's captains.

According to court documents, the accuser told police that when she and another dancer began their routine at an off-campus house shared by the team's co-captains, players became "excited and aggressive."

The dancers left, but one of the men allegedly persuaded them to go back inside.

Shortly afterward, the accuser said, she was pulled into a bathroom, held by her arms and legs, and raped by three men for about 30 minutes.

A neighbor, Jason Bissey, said he saw the women speed off in a car. He said that as they left, one of several men milling around outside shouted: "Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt!"

Police also released a tape of a 911 call made that evening in which a female caller said that partygoers had yelled a racial slur at her and a friend as they walked nearby.

As the investigation unfolded, it was revealed that a player later sent an e-mail to fellow teammates saying that they should hire strippers for another party and that he would kill and skin them.

The university, accused of reacting slowly at first, subsequently suspended the player, canceled the remainder of the season and accepted the resignation of Coach Mike Pressler.

Authorities had asked 46 members of the team to provide DNA samples.

A 47th player was not asked to participate because he is black and the accuser told police her attackers were white.

As the community waited anxiously for results, there was much public debate about long-standing frictions.

Duke, for many years an all-white campus that was integrated in the early 1960s, is in a community in which nearly half the residents are black.

Yearly tuition will be $43,000 in the fall, almost $2,000 more than the median household income as reported in the 2000 census.

"We know that some people in town call us 'the Plantation,' " said David Krauss, a 22-year-old senior.

School officials warned students about rumors of retaliatory drive-by shootings at the same time that Nifong was accused of grandstanding for an upcoming election.

The so-called lacrosse house, which now sits vacant, has become the site of numerous demonstrations, including one by a black congregation that gathered there Sunday to pray for the alleged victim and the accused.

City Councilman Eugene Brown, who lives on the next block, said he did not think Monday's news would do much to soothe feelings on either side.

"There are no winners in this; we are all losers," Brown said. "The community has become so polarized that, in the end, the truth might not matter."

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