Sports Outside the Beltway

No DNA Match in Duke Gang Rape Case

My interest in Duke Lacrosse, like that of most sports fans, generally ranks somewhere between my interest in preseason minor league soccer and curling. Even when it was alleged that they gang raped a 27-year-old stripper slash college student, they were on the periphery of my consciousness. Now, that story is getting interesting.

DNA testing failed to connect any members of the Duke University lacrosse team to the alleged rape of a stripper, attorneys for the athletes said Monday. Citing DNA test results delivered by the state crime lab to police and prosecutors a few hours earlier, the attorneys said the test results prove their clients did not sexually assault and beat a stripper hired to perform at a March 13 team party. [. . . ] “There is no DNA evidence that shows she was touched by any of these boys,” said Attorney Joe Cheshire, who represents one of the team’s captains.

The alleged victim, a 27-year-old student at a nearby college, told police she and another woman were hired to dance at the party. The woman told police that three men at the party dragged her into a bathroom, choked her, raped her and sodomized her. The Associated Press does not name alleged victims in sexual assault cases.

The allegations have led to the resignation of coach Mike Pressler, the cancellation of the lacrosse season and the suspension of one player from school. The case also led to days of protests on and off the Duke campus, and some of the players have moved for safety reasons.

Cheshire said the report indicated authorities took DNA samples from all over the alleged victim’s body, including under her fingernails, and from her possessions, such as her cell phone and her clothes. “They swabbed about every place they could possibly swab from her, in which there could be any DNA,” he said.

District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he would have other evidence to make his case should the DNA analysis prove inconclusive or fail to match a member of the team. “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.”


Stan Goldman, who teaches criminal law, evidence and criminal procedure at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the DNA results don’t mean that Nifong can’t go forward with the case — but the test results make a successful prosecution much harder. “Isn’t the absence of DNA evidence, given the way the victim has described the crime, in and of itself almost enough to raise a reasonable doubt?” he said. “That’s all the defense has to do.”

LaShawn Barber invokes the Tawana Brawley case, which might indeed be apt. Dallas Cowboys fans may also recall an incident several years back when Michael Irvin and Erik Williams were falsely accused of rape. It certainly happens.

The problem with all these cases is that a woman who alleges she is raped is automatically presumed to be an innocent victim. The AP is not alone in its policy of refusing to publish the names of accusers, yet everyone rushes to print the charges, which irreparably tar the accused. In this case, a man has lost his job, a team has lost their season, and all concerned are permanently scarred. Yet the accuser, who quite probably made the whole thing up, remains unscathed.



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