On Tuesday morning, the Durham District Attorney charged 19-year-old Collin Finnerty from Garden City, N.Y. and 20 year old Reade Seligmann from Essex Fells, N.J., with first degree forcible rape, first degree sexual offense and kidnapping arising from allegations made last month by a female student at a nearby university.
The defendants, both sophomores at Duke University and members of the school’s lacrosse team, have been released on bail of $400,000.
District attorney Mike Nifong indicated in a statement released on Tuesday that he was gathering evidence to bring charges against a third person.
“It had been my hope to be able to charge all three of the assailants at the same time, but the evidence available to me at this moment does not permit that,” said Nifong.
“Investigation into the identity of the third assailant will continue in the hope that he can also be identified with certainty. It is important that we not only bring the assailants to justice, but also that we lift the cloud of suspicion from those team members who were not involved in the assault.”
The alleged victim, a 27-year-old black woman and mother of two children, told police she was attacked by three white men in a bathroom at an off-campus party held by the lacrosse team on March 13, members of whom hired her to perform as an exotic dancer.
The allegations led to racially charged protests on the Duke campus, the population of which is mostly white and affluent in a city where 45 percent of the population is black and economically disadvantaged. In the last year, lacrosse team members have come under from school officials for committing a “disproportionate” number of violations of the campus judicial code.
Later revelations of an email that one team member sent hours after the alleged assault, in which he said he planned to hire strippers so that he could kill and cut off their skin, prompted the resignation of team coach Mike Pressler and the cancellation of the team’s season.
“In this situation of inflamed passions and painful uncertainty, I have emphasized the importance of not rushing to judgment and allowing the legal system to establish the truth,” Duke President Richard Brodhead said in a statement released on Tuesday.
“We also move from unfocused speculation about 46 members of the team to the court of law where the guilt or innocence of the individuals charged will be established. It is worth reminding ourselves that in our system of laws, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
DNA testing failed to connect any of the 46 team members tested to the assault, a point that defense lawyers have argued ought to lead to the dismissal of the case. A 47th team member, who is black, was not tested because the alleged victim said her attackers were white.
However, Nifong has indicated that there is enough evidence to proceed with the case, adding that 75 to 80 percent of rape trials lack DNA evidence.
“They heard one side of the story,” Finnerty’s attorney Bill Cotter told the press on Tuesday, after a grand jury indicted his client.
“The next jury will hear the entire story. We’re surprised that anybody got indicted, quite frankly,” he said.
Last fall, the District of Columbia court sentenced Finnerty to perform 25 hours of community service in Washington after he was charged with assaulting a man and calling him “gay and derogatory names” with two companions outside a hotel. Calls to Finnerty’s home in Garden City and to his lawyers were not returned.
Seligmann’s lawyer Kirk Osborn told Long Island-based newspaper Newsday that his client was “absolutely innocent.”
Defense lawyers claim that several witnesses and a receipt for fast food purchased near the time of the alleged assault would indicate that Seligmann was not at the party.
The players will appear in court again on May 15.