3rd suspect sought in lacrosse case

Staff WritersApril 19, 2006 

DURHAM -- John Burness, a Duke University spokesman, said Durham police served a search warrant at Edens Residence Hall on campus, the home of several lacrosse players, just before 6 p.m. Tuesday as a rape investigation continued.

Burness said he did not know the contents of the warrant, which rooms were searched or how many. Police spokesmen declined to comment.

Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested in the investigation Tuesday, but the district attorney's vow to identify one more suspect kept 44 players and a community in limbo.

For weeks, Durham had waited for District Attorney Mike Nifong to bring charges or drop the case. Early Tuesday, Collin Finnerty, 19, and Reade William Seligmann, 20, were charged with first-degree rape, first-degree sex offense and first-degree kidnapping. They were released from the Durham County jail after each posted a $400,000 cash bail.

But a woman hired through an escort service to dance March 13 at a lacrosse team house party told police that she was raped, sodomized, beaten and strangled by three men, not two. Nifong said in a statement that he does not yet have the evidence to charge a third man, but investigators are trying to identify the man 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," Nifong's statement said.

Seligmann, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Finnerty, of Garden City, N.Y., were indicted by a grand jury Monday, but a judge sealed the indictments until after the arrests early Tuesday. The judge's order prohibited anyone in the court system from even saying that the case had been submitted to a grand jury.

At 4:54 a.m. the Duke sophomores emerged from a Durham sheriff's car and were led, handcuffed, into the magistrate's office.

Duke officials said in a statement that federal law prevents them from confirming the status of the students, but the university typically suspends students charged with a felony.

Outside the jail, attorneys for the men said the charges were unfounded.

"The [grand] jury only heard one side of the story. They almost always indict," said Bill Cotter, one of Finnerty's attorneys. "The next jury will hear the entire story, which will include our evidence. We're confident that these young men will be found innocent."

Kirk Osborn, Seligmann's attorney, said, "We're looking forward to showing that he is absolutely innocent as soon as we can."

Julian Mack, who represented Seligmann before Tuesday's arrest, said, "I'm devastated that he's been charged. It's a terrible, terrible mistake."

In court documents, authorities wrote that in the days after the allegations were made, the three team captains who lived at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. had listed the 40 or so team members who had been at the party. Seligmann was not on that list.

On Tuesday, Kerry Sutton, a lawyer representing another member of the team, said a paper trail of cell phone records, ATM statements and taxicab receipts could show that one or both of the men were not at the party during the time when the woman says she was raped. It is unclear exactly what time the woman says the rape occurred.

Lindsay McMahon, 20, a Duke junior, said she and Seligmann were in a class last year called "American Dreams, American Realities."

"He was always very cordial and had intelligent comments to make. I think he's just a great person," McMahon said. "I think people by and large, anyone who's met Reade, is utterly shocked by these allegations. If you look at these guys, they are great guys, and I don't think he had anything to do with this."

After more than a month of public debate over what happened at the party, the case finally moved to a courtroom Tuesday.

At 10:35 a.m., Nifong stood and called Finnerty and Seligmann to the defense table. Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens went through the brief court appearance quickly with the lawyers. Seligmann was not present, and the judge said he would have to appear in court at some point to formally waive getting a court-appointed lawyer. The judge set court appearances for both men on May 15.

Photographers lined the walls of the courtroom and followed the lawyers and Finnerty out of the building. The story has drawn national attention and opened wounds of race and class in Durham and on the campus of the elite university just a few miles from downtown.

The woman, a black student at N.C. Central University, said she was raped by white men at a spring break party where members of the nationally ranked lacrosse team paid $800 to have two women dance.

The men, through their attorneys, say that the accuser showed up intoxicated, that the two women left after only a few minutes and that no rape, no assault and no sex occurred.

The arrests came after weeks of suspicion that had followed all 46 white members of the team since March 23, when they were ordered by a judge to submit to DNA tests. The team's only black member was not required to have his cheek swabbed at a Durham crime lab.

The players' attorneys have said the DNA testing showed that state experts could not find any evidence of the players' genetic material on or in the woman. Nifong has ordered more DNA testing. He said Tuesday through his statement that he would make no more comments on the case outside a courtroom. He did not return a phone message Tuesday.

Nifong's vow to press forward left the rest of the team waiting. The dozen or so lawyers representing players had looked to the grand jury to clear their clients.

"I have to tell my client, 'You need to hang tight, buddy. ... We are not out of the woods yet,' " said Meredith Nicholson, who represents one of the players.

(Staff writers Michael Biesecker, Stanley B. Chambers Jr., Joseph Neff, Anne Blythe and Nikole Hannah-Jones and researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Benjamin Niolet can be reached at 956-2404 or bniolet@newsobserver.com.

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