12/27/06 — Falling apart: Case against lacrosse players weaker by the day

View Archive

Falling apart: Case against lacrosse players weaker by the day

Almost everyone except District Attorney Mike Nifong seemed to know that what happened last week in the Duke lacrosse team rape case was coming.

After months of defending his decision to move forward, Nifong announced Friday that he would be dropping the rape charges against the three students. This after multiple contradictions and other questions have been raised about the victim in the case, who has only been identified as a 28-year-old North Carolina Central University student.

Nifong will still prosecute Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann on various charges relating to sexual assault and an alleged kidnapping, but what is left of the credibility of the victim might not be enough to even get them into a courtroom.

From lack of DNA evidence to mounting inconsistencies in the young woman’s account of the evening in question, there is reason to wonder if she knows enough to be a credible witness in the case.

And then there is the matter of her pregnancy and test results that show multiple sexual partners — none of whom were the young men charged in the case.

Nifong has said in the past that if victims of assaults are subjected to intense questioning of their moral character, other women will hesitate to report rapes. He said the defense’s conduct in the Duke case could hurt the chance that victims of other crimes will be brave enough to come forward.

He is right and wrong. Aggressive prosecutions do make coming forward tougher for rape victims. To have her moral character questioned when she has already suffered an assault could destroy the confidence of an already traumatized victim.

But weak cases presented by less than credible witnesses, and holes in statements and inconsistencies in accounts that are seemingly ignored, also damage the credibility of rape prosecutions. Just as important as it is to explore every possibility when it comes to a rape victim’s statement, so, too, is it vital that a suspect receive the same rights to be listened to and adjudicated fairly. It is no less tragic to destroy the life of an innocent young man than it is to watch a rape victim undergo persecution because she cannot get anyone to believe her story.

Nifong has held on to a weak case for far too long — even when faced with mounting evidence that what the accuser said happened that night at the lacrosse party might not be exactly what actually occurred.

And if he has more than what he has shown so far in the case, he needs to present it and proceed with prosecution. He owes the victim and those who are accused in the crime that respect.

But if he has nothing and continues to drag this case on for many more months, he should be removed from office, because it will be clear that he has not yet learned what justice really is or how to do his job properly.

Only the next few weeks will reveal just how this drama will end.

Let’s hope it is over before any more lives are damaged.

Published in Editorials on December 27, 2006 12:16 PM