Indicted Duke Lacrosse Players Could Learn If They'll Stand Trial

Wednesday, April 11th 2007, 7:28 am
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Three members of Duke University's lacrosse team could learn as early as Wednesday whether state prosecutors will drop the remaining charges accusing them of sexually assaulting a stripper at a team party more than a year ago.

``I think it's likely that they will do that,'' said Wade Smith, an attorney for charged player Collin Finnerty. ``We certainly hope that would be true. But until we hear it, we're not going to acknowledge that's the truth. We'll wait and see.''

No formal announcements have been scheduled by the state attorney general's office, which took over the case in January after the local district attorney was charged with several ethics violations tied to his handling of the sensational case.

But a person close to the case told The Associated Press on Tuesday that prosecutors in the attorney general's office, which for weeks has said it was close to completing its investigation, wrapped up additional interviews last week.

The person, who spoke to the AP on a condition of anonymity because a formal announcement has not been made, said Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans could learn as soon as Wednesday whether the state plans to drop the charges or take the case to trial.

A grand jury indicted the three players on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense last spring after a woman told police she was assaulted at a March 2006 team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper. All three have steadfastly maintained their innocence, with Evans calling the allegations ``fantastic lies.''

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong dropped the rape charges in December after the accuser changed a key detail in her story. He recused himself a few weeks later after the state bar charged him with violating several rules of professional conduct.

Among the ethics charges, Nifong is accused of withholding potentially exculpatory DNA evidence from the defense and lying to both the court and bar investigators. Nifong faces a June trial before the bar and could be disbarred if convicted.

Nifong's recusal put the players' fate in the hands of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who promised ``a fresh and thorough review of the facts'' when he took over the case in January.

There were other signs Tuesday that an announcement from Cooper might come soon. Seligmann, 21, of Essex Fells, N.J., and his family arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and Smith said the Finnerty family was also expected to arrive later Tuesday from their home in Garden City, N.Y.

``We are not going to have any expectations until we hear officially,'' Smith said. ``When we get the word, we'll have the word.''

Evans' attorney, Joseph Cheshire, declined to comment when asked if his client was planning to be in Raleigh on Wednesday.

While Evans, 24, of Bethesda, Md., graduated the day before he was indicted in May, Duke temporarily suspended sophomores Finnerty and Seligmann in the wake of their arrest. Finnerty, 20, was also convicted in July in an unrelated assault case in Washington, D.C., and sentenced to six months of probation.

Finnerty and Seligmann were both invited to return to campus, but neither has accepted. John Danowski, the former coach at Hofstra who took over the Duke program last summer, has also said that both are welcome to continue their lacrosse careers with the Blue Devils.