DURHAM — It was Crystal Gail Mangum's own words that brought supporters to her side. They held a vigil outside the house where she told police she had been raped by three members of the Duke University lacrosse team. They thanked her for speaking out.
But her words, leaked slowly over the past year, also helped seal the fate of the case dismissed Wednesday by the office of state Attorney General Roy Cooper.
"No DNA confirms the accuser's story," Cooper said at a news conference. "No other witness confirms her story. Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself."
Since she leveled her accusations, Mangum, 28, has given at least six documented versions of what happened.
She won't face charges of filing a false police report, Cooper said.
"Our investigators ... think that she may actually believe the many different stories that she has been telling," he said.
Mangum could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Her mother referred questions to a lawyer, who did not return phone messages.
Through her statements during the past year, Mangum has contradicted herself and at times, misrepresented her past. The wavering recollections, embellishments and muddied timelines provided by Mangum undermined her credibility.
Piece by piece, the criminal case that Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong built against the players -- Collin Finnerty, Dave Evans and Reade Seligmann -- collapsed.
The charges came 13 months ago after Duke players living in a house off-campus hired two strippers to dance at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. on the night of March 13, 2006. After leaving the party, the other dancer drove Mangum to a supermarket on Hillsborough Road. When police arrived, they found her passed out. Eventually, she said she had been raped and was taken to Duke Hospital.
Mangum, a mother of three children ages 7, 8 and 3 months, was enrolled last spring at N.C. Central University. On March 24, 11 days after the party, she granted a short interview with The News & Observer, her only media interview to date. Mangum made allegations of racism, claimed to have only a short history as a stripper, and said she thought the other woman hired to dance with her also had been assaulted.
The interview began in front of Mangum's parents' home near N.C. Central. When an N&O reporter approached, she confirmed that she had made the rape report. She started crying.
When asked why she made the report, she said, "Most guys don't think it's a big deal" to force a woman to have sex. She confirmed that the claimed incident occurred at a party near Duke.
Moments later, she added, "Maybe they think they can get away with it because they have more money than me."
After a few moments, Mangum said she had to leave, but she consented to meet that afternoon.
Later, she sat in her living room for less than 15 minutes to answer more questions. She said she received a phone call from her escort service to appear at the house for a bachelor party. There, she met a second dancer whose name she could not recall.
Mangum said that as soon as she and the second dancer entered the house, they were barraged with racist remarks.
"We started crying," she said. "We were so scared."
Moments later, after someone apologized, the women went back into the house and were separated, Mangum said.
She did not give details but maintained that she had been raped. Mangum said that although she did not witness it, she thought the second dancer was sexually assaulted but didn't come forward because she would lose her job as an escort.
"I got the feeling she would do just about anything for money," Mangum said of the second dancer, Kim Roberts.
Roberts, in later interviews, never said she was attacked and told police that Mangum's accusations of rape were a "crock."
Mangum said she had never danced at a private party at a house. She also said she had never danced for a large group of men. That statement later was contradicted by court records, which show she was arrested nearly four years earlier on charges of driving a stolen cab outside a Durham strip club where the owner said she had been dancing.
She also said her father had been to the hospital to visit her after she made the rape report, a statement her father later denied.
Before Nifong handed the case in January to special prosecutors, his files showed five other accounts from Mangum of what happened at the house, in handwritten statements and as told to a nurse, police and the district attorney's investigator.
After saying she was raped, sodomized and strangled, she later said she wasn't sure whether her vagina had been penetrated by a penis, the legal definition of rape in North Carolina. She maintained that she was otherwise sexually assaulted.
She changed the time of the supposed attack. Her timeline was contradicted by her cell phone records and time-stamped photos of her at the party, clad in a sheer red negligee.
Those photos of Mangum have surfaced on television and the Internet, her faced blurred. A video clip of her dancing at a Hillsborough strip club 13 days after the party also has been posted online.
A retreat from family
Using those images, critics cast doubt on her claims. Some characterized her as a prostitute, a gold-digger and pawn of a calculating district attorney. Mangum retreated from friends and family and did not return to NCCU. Just months before she had her third child, her father said he was unaware she was pregnant.
The case has divided those who still believe Mangum, and those who never did. Followers of the case have long waited to see the accuser appear in court, as though finally seeing her face or hearing her voice could shed light on who she truly is.
They will never know.
Wednesday's dismissal of sexual assault and kidnapping charges will mean confidential records on Mangum's history and her mental health, previously sealed by a judge, will remain closed tight.
The public will rely on a patchwork of court records, news reports, Internet postings and grainy photographs to draw conclusions. Mangum's true motives will remain a mystery.
(Staff writer Joseph Neff contributed to this report.)
Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or email@example.com.