DURHAM — Defense lawyers said Monday that DNA testing proves that Duke University lacrosse players did not rape a woman hired to strip at a team party, but the district attorney said he remains intent on building his case.
The developments, played out in and around the Durham courthouse in late afternoon, set the stage for a standoff between District Attorney Mike Nifong, who goes before voters in 23 days, and a dozen lawyers who have used the news media to argue that their clients have done nothing wrong.
The state crime lab sent the DNA test results to Durham via fax machine about 4 p.m., and about two hours later, lawyers representing the 46 team members ordered to provide cheek swabs for testing gathered on the steps of the courthouse.
“There is no evidence other than the word of this complaining person that any rape or sexual assault occurred,” said Joseph B. Cheshire V, a Raleigh attorney who represents one of the four team captains.
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Cheshire said that no DNA from any players was found on or in the woman, who said she was strangled, sodomized and raped during a drunken party at a house across from campus on a spring break Monday night.
A judge last month ordered the testing. The only player not tested was the team’s only black member; the accuser, who is black, said her three attackers were white.
Lawyer Wade Smith said Monday evening that the results should end the investigation. “There was no sex assault,” Smith said.
Nifong said the DNA results do not end anything.
“I’m not saying it’s over. If that’s what they expect, they will be sadly disappointed,” Nifong said at a candidate forum Monday night. “They can say anything they want, but I’m still in the middle of my investigation. … I believe a sexual assault took place.”
Neither Nifong nor the defense lawyers would release the results.
Nifong said he remains confident in the woman’s story: that she was hired to dance at the March 13 party and was sexually assaulted in a bathroom. Police later found four of her fake fingernails in the house. A nurse and doctor found “signs, symptoms and injuries consistent with being raped and sexually assaulted vaginally and anally,” according to a police affidavit used to obtain a search warrant.
The defense lawyers, speaking at their Monday news conference, said the DNA evidence supports the team’s story: that two women hired to dance at the party took $800 and left after a few minutes.