“High-Tech Lynching’ continues in Durham, N.C.
By: Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from the Wilmington Journal
Originally posted 5/8/2006
DURHAM, N.C. (NNPA) – While some in the African-American community have accused the news media and defense attorneys’ of engineering a “high-tech lynching” of the Black female alleged victim in the Duke lacrosse gang rape case, continued this week with defense motions seeking to portray her as a dishonest drug addict and alcoholic with a criminal past.
“From the beginning, we demanded that the defense lawyers had a community responsibility not to demean the accuser in public, which only incites passion,” N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber told a mass church meeting recently. “This case cannot be decided between the front page and the sports page of the newspaper. It must be decided, after careful presentation of all the evidence, by the judge and the jury.”
This comes on the heels of reports of death threats against the 27 year-old mother of two, a Black college student and an U.S. Navy veteran after her name, address and pictures were widely disseminated on the Internet. Her family says she is so frightened, she screams when she sees White males, and has threatened to withdraw her complaint so she can go on with her life.
Sources confirmed that famed litigator, attorney Willie Gary of Florida, has met with the parents of the victim to offer his services as a legal advisor and advocate. But the woman is reportedly so frightened, however, that she will not come out of hiding with her children to meet with Gary, NAACP President Barber, or any of the other Black leaders who have sought to help her.
Her family says she is so embattled at this point, that she trusts no one. But for now, she will testify if, and when the case goes to trial.
“We have, and continue, to reach out to her in numerous ways,” Rev. Barber said. “I will not discuss all the ways publicly this has been done because I want her to know, if she is watching and chooses to reach back, that our concern will not be exploitive, but is an act of true compassion.”
Duke lacrosse players Colin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, NY; and Reade William Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, NJ; were recently indicted by a grand jury for first -degree sexual offense, first-degree forcible sexual offense, and first-degree kidnapping after being identified by the alleged victim as two of three White male lacrosse players she says brutally beat, kicked, strangled and sodomized her at a wild off-campus party the morning of March 14.
A third unidentified suspect is expected to be indicted by May 15, when a second set of DNA results, and the next court hearing in this case, are expected to occur.
If convicted those felonies carry a minimum of 12 years in prison each.
Both of the accused are Duke University sophomores, who have since been suspended from the elite university, were arrested and brought to the Durham County Detention Facility in handcuffs. But before noon, Seligmann and Finnerty met the $400,000 bond each imposed by a judge, and were released.
Their attorneys claim they are innocent, and have a timeline, alibis, documents and witnesses they say prove neither was at the party at the time the accuser alleges the assault occurred.
Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, who is personally prosecuting this case, counters that a rape examination of the victim done at Duke Medical Center that morning revealed evidence of bruising “consistent” with a brutal sexual assault, with the most likely place it happened at lacrosse team party.
Sources say there may also be a toxicology report that shows evidence of a date rape drug in the victim’s system. The second woman who was hired to dance at the party along with the accuser has alleged that a drink given to the woman may have been spiked, because her perfectly sober demeanor when they arrived changed dramatically, deteriorating into an incoherent stupor that went well beyond being drunk.
If D.A. Nifong has that evidence, and has connected it to the party, that could be his ace-in-the-hole, along with other unpublicized evidence, to prove the alleged victim’s story.
Because only three of the 47-member Duke lacrosse team have come forward to talk to police, Nifong has reinstituted previously deferred misdemeanor charges for public drunkenness, public urination and noise violations against players who can’t prove they were not at the party.
The move is seen as a squeeze play to break the lacrosse team’s wall of silence that’s been in place since the beginning of the case.
But defense attorneys who, with the help of zero positive matches from the first set of DNA tests, maintain that a rape at the party never happened, are fighting back.
Motions were filed in Durham County Superior Court this week by Kirk Osborn, attorney for suspect Reade Seligmann, requesting that D.A. Nifong hand over any and all records relating to the alleged victim’s past.
“This request is based on the fact that the complaining witness has a history of criminal activity and behavior, which includes alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and dishonesty, all conduct which indicate mental, emotional and/or physical problems, which affect her credibility as a witness,” attorney Osborn alleged in court papers.
He’s seeking the alleged victim’s records regarding any mental disability, hospital commitments, drug abuse, past criminal charges and convictions, probation or parole, and services received from the Department of Social Services, child protective agencies, victim’s advocacy agencies, “…or any other agencies providing services for mental, emotional, drug or alcohol problems,” the motion states.
The only known criminal charges the alleged victim has stem from a 2002 incident involving a stolen taxi and subsequent police pursuit. The charges were knocked down to misdemeanors, and she was ordered to pay $4,000 restitution and spend six days in jail, which, according to her attorney at the time, she did.
Osborn also asked for the accuser’s records from Hillside High School, and North Carolina Central University, where she is a 3.0, second-year student studying in the criminal justice program.
Experts typically call attorney Osborn’s motion “a fishing expedition,” noting that while it is entirely proper for recent information about the victim to be used to test her credibility, records going back to her childhood may not be allowed by the court.
“The state may apply for a court order to prevent further pollution of the jury pool,” says Alan McSurely, a civil rights attorney from Chapel Hill, and chairman of the N.C. NAACP’s Legal Redress Committee. “There probably will be one more arrest for rape, kidnapping or sexual assault. There could be charges brought for accessories after the fact for helping cover up the crime.”
“The NAACP’s aim is to follow the evidence as it unfolds, reporting it accurately and fairly, always seeking justice and rebuilding community,” attorney McSurely adds.
Defense attorneys are also expected to file motions asking the court to throw out the accuser’s photo identification of Seligmann and Finnerty as two of her attackers. Attorneys say only pictures of the lacrosse team players, who were all considered suspects at the time, were used, which is a violation of what constitutes a legal photo lineup.
In an unrelated matter, the other rape suspect, Colin Finnerty, will now have to stand trial in July for a misdemeanor assault on a Washington, D.C. man last November.
The man said Finnerty and two friends began punching him in the face and body on the street for no reason, calling him “gay and other derogatory names.”
If Finnerty had performed 25 hours of community service in the D.C. area and stayed out of trouble, the simple assault charge would have been dropped this September. But this week, a D.C. judge tossed that deal out, saying that because of the Duke felony charges, Finnerty violated that agreement, and can now be tried.
Meanwhile a powerful local Black political group, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, has endorsed one of District Attorney Mike Nifong’s two opponents in the May 1st Democratic primary next week, apparently exhibiting little faith in his handling of the controversial Duke rape case.
Since there is no Republican opposition, whoever wins that primary with 40 percent or more of the vote is automatically elected Durham’s next D.A.
Nifong’s opposition includes Keith Bishop, a Black defense attorney with no prosecutorial experience; and Freda Black, a White female and former prosecutor in the Durham District Attorney’s Office until Nifong fired her when he took over a year ago.