Duke Lacrosse Scandal

No one would have expected that one more slightly wild, off-campus party would take Duke University and the town of Durham, North Carolina to hell and back.

The hard-playing, hard-studying, and hard-drinking players on the Lacrosse team were blowing off steam at an off-campus party that night of March 13, 2006.  They had chipped in to hire some strippers as entertainment.  When one of the girls, a black Durham resident, later alleged brutal treatment, including rape, by a cluster of Lacrosse players at the party, old resentments were unleashed. Within a couple of days the incident was the talk of the town, with most assuming the guilt of the students, still unnamed. Town and gown issues and racial memories blended with modern sensitivities about sexual assault to form a nasty social brew.

Not only was the native Durham African-American community outraged, black Duke professor Houston Baker loudly insisted that all the Lacrosse players be expelled from school, the team disbanded!  Liberal colleagues joined him in roundly condemning the players in particular, and white behavior toward blacks in general. Loose and extreme talk was common on all sides of the divide-everyone had an opinion, usually a bitterly angry one.

Weeks later, when the alleged victim was asked to identify her perpetrators, she was shown photos only of Lacrosse team members who’d been at the party. It was like a multiple choice test with no wrong answers!  In fact, the police and especially the D.A.’s office handled the case so wretchedly, in so many ways, it will stand as a negative example of justice for decades.

Meanwhile, the president of the University subtly joined those who abandoned the presumption of innocence.  Defense lawyers say as months went by they begged president Richard Brodhead to meet with them to receive clear exculpatory evidence, but he always refused.  The case in the end unraveled and the boys were declared innocent, but apologies from those who rushed to judgment were few, and far between.

It may have been as crazy, for it’s time, as the Salem Witch Trials.  It’s called the Duke Lacrosse Case, but could as easily be called “The Year That Durham Went Mad.”

 Join us for a classic case of the mysteries of mass psychology.


Note:  Some analysts may find it more productive to refer back to this as only a reference after becoming more familiar with the controversy.

“A 27-year-old Durham woman told DA Nifong she was hit, kicked and strangled during an assault at a Duke Lacrosse party. She reported that she was sexually assaulted for an approximate 30 minute time period by the three males. That was before a mountain of digital photos, receipts, and eyewitness accounts appeared in the press which seemed to contradict the time line.”

“March 13, 2006 — Spring Break Lacrosse party

March 14 — Listed on the indictments of Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann as the “Date of Offense”

March 16 — First substantial police interview with accuser (photo line-up); Police search of 610 Buchanan house

March 17 — Durham police issue a “non-testimonial” order, giving them the right to threaten legal action if an individual won’t cooperate in the process of gathering evidence.

March 21 — Police I.D. session (photo line-up) with accuser. Evans apparently is not identified. Accuser and her “driver,” Jarriel Johnson, ask police about return of property.

March 22 — Lacrosse team players cancel meeting with DA Kim Roberts arrested on a probation violation from the 2001 conviction

March 23 — Court ordered DNA testing of lacrosse team

March 24 — Accuser’s interview with News-Observer

March 26 — 150 gather for “pots and pans” protest

March 27 — SBI receives samples from 46 team members

Search warrant issued for the dorm room of lax player Ryan McFadyen

March 28 — Duke president suspends season

March 29 — Lacrosse team “wanted posters” appear at a Take Back the Night rally; Scathing letter from Duke’s Houston A. Baker calling for dismissals

April 4 — Police I.D. session (PowerPoint photo line-up) with accuser. Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans identified.

April 5 — Lacrosse season canceled

Coach Mike Pressler resigns.

E-mail signed “41” made public and Ryan McFadyen (jersey #41) suspended

April 10 — Defense attorneys reveal no match found in results of the first DNA testing

April 11 — NCU forum; Nifong meets with accuser

April 14 — “Sting” email sent to lacrosse players, possibly by police

April 17 — Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann indicted

April 18 — Search warrants issued for dorm rooms of Seligmann and Finnerty

April 19 — Kim Roberts sends e-mail to PR firm

April 20 — On-Time Taxi driver, Moezeldin Elmostafa, speaks to AP reporter

May 1 — The New Black Panthers demonstrate in Durham

May 2 — Nifong wins 45 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary

May 10 — On-Time Taxi driver, Elmostafa, held in jail for five hours

May 12 — Defense attorneys reveal no match found in results of second DNA testing

May 15 — David Evans indicted

May 16 — Nifong announces he “doesn’t foresee any further indictments” in the Duke case

May 18 — Seligmann’s first court appearance; 1,300 pages of “discovery” given to defense

May 24 — Lax midfielder Matthew Wilson is charged with drug possession and driving while impaired after a traffic stop. He is suspended indefinitely from the team 10 days later.

June 5 — Duke lacrosse team reinstated, former Duke lacrosse player Kevin Cassese, 25, appointed as interim coach

June 13 — Graduated basketball star J.J. Redick is arrested on charges of drunken driving after making an illegal U-turn to avoid a police checkpoint.

June 23 — Athletics Director Joe Alleva injured in a boating accident with his son — a former Duke baseball player — who is charged with operating a boat while impaired.

June 29 — Ryan McFadyen reinstated and cleared to rejoin lacrosse team

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs says the e-mail was sent “in jest,” using language from the novel turned movie: “American Psycho.”

June 30 — County Commissioner Lewis Cheek gathers enough signed petitions to put him on the November 2006 ballot against DA Nifong; Republican party chairman Steve Monks fails in his petition drive

July 11 — Finnerty convicted In D.C. assault case

July 14 — Durham Police Chief Steve Chalmers announces he will retire in December of 2007

July 17 — Citing extensive local, state, national and international media coverage, Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Titus issues publicity restraints. Short of an all out “gag order,” the judge exempted media comments permitted by the N.C. State Bar’s Revised Rules of Professional Conduct.

July 20 — Several Durham police officers involved in an alleged verbal exchange of racial slurs and beating of Rene Dennis Thomas, a restaurant cook at Blinco’s Sports Bar in Raleigh.

July 21 — Duke rape case investigators, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb and officer Richard Clayton, are re-assigned to administrative duty.

All three defense lawyers formally request Judge Titus modify his quasi-gag order, arguing they were entitled to “pursue lawful strategies” to try to get the indictments dismissed or the charges reduced — including using “the court of public opinion” to try to show their clients don’t deserve to be tried; Duke names John Danowski as new lacrosse coach

July 27 — Officers Gary Lee and Scott Tanner charged with simple assault. Gottlieb, Clayton and other investigated officers are restored to full-duty status.

September 1 — Superior Court Judge William Osmond Smith III assumes sole management of the case and schedule

December 7 — Congressman Walter B. Jones asks the US Dept. of Justice to investigate DA Nifong

December 15 — Private DNA laboratory head, Brian Meehan, testifies that he and Nifong agreed not to report all DNA results

December 22 — State drops the rape charges against all three defendants

December 28 — NC State Bar accuses Nifong of violating ethics rules

December 29 — NC Conference of District Attorneys issues public rebuke and calls for Nifong to recuse himself

January 12, 2007 — Nifong requests the State Attorney General’s office handle the case

April 11, 2007 — AG Roy Cooper dismisses all remaining charges citing a lack of evidence

June 15, 2007 — Mike Nifong announces his resignation as Durham’s District Attorney”

Courtesy of VanceHolmes.com, legal blog

Note: The following timeline was compiled by Jared Mueller and Tiffany Webber using information provided by ABC News, NBC 17 News, the Durham Herald-Sun, The Raleigh News & Observer and The New York Times.


Based on several published reports, The Duke Chronicle offers readers a timeline for the night of March 13 and the early morning of March 14:

11:30 PM — Approximate time, according to a Durham police warrant, of the two exotic dancers’ arrival at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd.

11:50 PM — Neighbor Jason Bissey told the Raleigh News and Observer that he saw two women walk to the back of the house, where they were greeted by a man.

12:00 AM — Bissey sees the two women enter the house.

12:02 AM — A time-stamped photo provided by defense attorneys shows women dancing in front of the lacrosse players.

12:03 AM — Another photo shows both dancers leaving the party.

12:03 AM-12:30 AM — There is a 27-minute gap where no photos were taken.

12:07, 12:14 AM — Phone bills indicate two outgoing calls are made from sophomore Reade Seligmann’s cell phone.

Sometime before 12:24 AM — A taxi driver has said in a written statement that he picked up Seligmann and a friend a block and a half away from the party.

12:24 AM — Seligmann’s ATM card is used at a Wachovia bank. The taxi driver confirmed that he drove Seligmann and his friend to a bank and fast food restaurant before taking them to West Campus.

12:25 AM — Seligmann calls his girlfriend, another Duke sophomore, on his cell phone.

12:20 AM-12:30 AM — Bissey told the Durham Herald-Sun he saw the women leave the house during this period, only to try to go back inside to retrieve a missing shoe.

12:30 AM — A time-stamped photo shows Mangum, wearing only one shoe, rifling through her purse and apparently smiling on the back porch of 610 N. Buchanan Blvd.

12:37 AM — A photo shows the woman lying on her side on the porch, apparently passed out.

12:41 AM — A photo shows the woman sitting in the passenger seat of a car with the door open.

12:45 AM-1:00 AM — Bissey said he saw the two dancers leave in a car sometime during this time period. He said he saw one man standing adjacent to the East Campus wall, shout “Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt.” He added that he saw the players leave the residence shortly thereafter.

12:46 AM — Seligmann’s DukeCard is used to gain access to his Edens dormitory.

12:53 AM — The second dancer calls 911, saying white men who came out of 610 N. Buchanan yelled “nigger” at her from near the East Campus wall. Defense attorneys questioned inconsistencies in the call — the caller first said she was driving, and later said she was walking when the slur was yelled.

12:55 AM — Durham Police Department officers arrive at a quiet 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. They saw there was evidence of a party, but nobody answered the door when the officers arrived.

1:22 AM — A female grocery clerk at a Kroger located on Hillsborough Road calls 911, saying “There’s a lady in someone else’s car, and she will not get out…She’s like, intoxicated, drunk or something.”

1:30 AM — The police officer who came to respond to the Kroger call tells a dispatcher that Mangum does not need medical attention, adding, “She’s not in distress. She’s just passed-out drunk.”

1:58 AM — An e-mail sent from the Duke account of sophomore lacrosse player Ryan McFadyen discusses hiring strippers and “killing the bitches.



The scandal was fast out of the gate after the night of March 13, 2006. After the fraternity-ish party that night, strippers and lots of beer, Chrystal Mangum made serious allegations of sexual assault at the hands of multiple lacrosse players, within a few weeks arrests were made.Whatever really happened on the party-night in question (apparently less than meets the eye), the first weeks, really the first few months after the event and accusation, were a powerful period in the moral history of Durham.

Although already there were signs that evidence was iffy:

GWEN IFILL: Now, criminal allegations and their impact on a top university and the community that surrounds it.
We begin with some background from “NewsHour” correspondent Kwame Holman.

KWAME HOLMAN: The college town of Durham, North Carolina has been shaken by allegations that members of Duke University’s predominantly white men’s lacrosse team raped a black woman.

No charges have been filed and attorneys for the players say they are innocent, but the heavily publicized allegation has elevated issues of race and class in the community.

TIANA MACK, DUKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: There are still more black people who are scrubbing toilets here on Duke’s campus than who are students. No one wants to talk about the class issue.

KWAME HOLMAN: The alleged victim is a 27-year-old student at predominantly black North Carolina Central University.

She told police that at a party at this off-campus house last month she was beaten, choked and raped by three white members of the lacrosse team. She was one of two exotic dancers hired to perform at the party.

Appearing today on the alleged victim’s campus, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong acknowledged that DNA tests failed to link any of 46 white lacrosse team members to the victim. The team’s one black member was not tested.

PBS April 11, 2006

Nonetheless, the case, essentially driven by D.A. Mike Nifong, steamed forward:

DURHAM, N.C., April 17, 2006 – Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested on rape charges Tuesday in a scandal that has rocked one of America’s elite campuses and raised explosive questions of race, class and the privileged status of college athletes.

The two players – both graduates of Northern prep schools – were promptly booked and released on bail. District Attorney Mike Nifong said a third player could also be arrested but has yet to be firmly identified.

“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 said.

Lawyers for the two men bitterly assailed the district attorney for bringing the charges. Other attorneys for Duke’s lacrosse players said the two were not even present at the time the rape is alleged to have occurred.

Daily Collegian April 18, 2006

Apparently, Mangum first alleged rape by “20” players, then changed the number to three. The guys she finally fingered had pretty good alibis from the start. Perhaps the case should never have been a case, except that emotions exploded, far beyond allegations. It had an energy of its own, and a willing prosecutor, eagerly running for re-election as District Attorney and badly in need of the support of Durhams’ black voters.

The media honed in rather accurately on the sub-text issues driving the emotions, for example:

The case has raised racial tensions and heightened the long-standing town-vs.-gown antagonism between Duke students and middle class, racially mixed Durham. The accuser is black, and all but one of the 47 lacrosse team members are white.

Well before the scandal, the nationally ranked team had a reputation for a swaggering sense of entitlement and boorish frat-boy behavior that included public intoxication and public urination. After the scandal broke, the university announced an investigation into whether it put up with such behavior for too long.

The case has led to the resignation of the coach and the cancellation of the rest of the season.

Daily Collegian April 18, 2006

A few weeks later, another indictment, as the case continued to have wind in it’s sails:

DURHAM, N.C., May 16. In the span of a day, Duke University lacrosse captain David Evans received both a bachelor’s degree and an indictment naming him as the third player charged with raping a stripper at a team party.

Monday, minutes before turning himself in to authorities, the clean-cut athlete stood up and loudly proclaimed that he and the rest of his teammates were innocent of allegations he labeled “fantastic lies.”

“I look forward to watching them unravel in the weeks to come,” said the 23-year-old economics major from Bethesda, Md.

“I am innocent. Reade Seligmann is innocent. Collin Finnerty is innocent,” Evans said, defending the two other players charged. “Every member of the Duke lacrosse team is innocent. … You have all been told some fantastic lies.

I’ll gladly stand up to anything that comes against me. I’ve never had my character questioned before. Anyone who’s met me knows this didn’t happen.”

Associated Press May 16, 2006

Three white, privileged boys had been singled out as the offenders at the infamous party. But was there truly evidence against any of them?

Meanwhile, Durham became possessed, as by medieval demons. Entire blogs, entire websites sprung up, devoted to the wrenching implications of the crime that had been alleged. Soul searching in writing was common, but anger, rage of some flavor or other was more common. One member of the M.O. Mystery staff was in Durham during those months, attended numerous public meetings, and lived the surreal experience of a community in turmoil, absolutely in turmoil, over crimes which in the end turned out not to have taken place.

This is not to imply that concern was insincere, or that the issues were trivial. Serious people weighed in in a serious way.  Perhaps most famous, or infamous, was the declaration by select Duke faculty, the long remembered manifesto by the “Group of 88.”

Really, the published document was just an awkward mash-up of concerns expressed by Duke students about the troubled racial and sexual atmosphere of the Duke campus as they knew it. But the timing, this sharp call to social justice on the heels of the detonation that went off regarding the off-campus party, stirred accusations of “political correctness” run amok, and of a rush to judgment.

It was said that these faculty members were abandoning the presumption of innocence. Many signatories later asserted they were doing no such thing, simply taking the current atmosphere as ripe for a teaching moment regarding often unspoken issues.

Ten years later, the following are a few paragraphs from a long article in the Duke Chronicle:

“What does a social disaster sound like?”
Former Duke lecturer Christine Beaule said that the ad was not meant as a response to the allegations against the lacrosse players.

That was the provocative question raised by an advertisement published in The Chronicle April 6, 2006. The ad came three weeks after a lacrosse party where three players—David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann—were falsely accused of raping stripper Crystal Mangum. It was published and signed by 88 faculty members and featured quotes, all anonymous, from Duke students expressing concern with issues involving sexual assault and race on campus.

The Chronicle spoke to four of the original signatories of the ad—which many have argued prematurely rushed to judgment and unfairly vilified the three players. Ten years after it was published, the four signatories interviewed said that the ad was solely meant to promote a discussion on Duke culture and to reflect on issues of sexual assault and race for students who did not feel comfortable on Duke’s campus.

“It wasn’t about the kids at all,” said Christine Beaule, former Mellon lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program, current assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and one of the original signatories.

Duke Chronicle April 6, 2016


The seeds of destruction were there early on, remarkable anecdotes piled on upon another.  Here are disquieting reports as related from a political site, The Federalist:







Nifong conducted frequent media interviews after the story went national—Fox News, CBS, MSNBC, Newsweek—describing players as uncooperative and worse, and assuring their conviction as part of his primary election campaign. What he didn’t do was talk to the accuser, Crystal Gail Mangum, about her story. How closed off was he from alternative theories of the case?
“We tried to convince him that we had a story to tell ourselves. Mr. Nifong put his hands over his ears and said I don’t want to hear it,” said Wade Smith, attorney for accused player Collin Finnerty.

“He literally put his hands over his ears,” said Jim Cooney, lawyer for accused player Reade Seligmann.

Seligmann’s mother Kathy added: “You don’t speak to the accuser and you don’t speak to the accused, but you’re positive something happened?

The Federalist March 16, 2016




We might mention that the attorneys quoted above are well respected in their region, and are never accused of making up tall tales…. 


One reason the commotion over the case finally abated, or at least changed in tone or direction, was the fact that the criminal case really wasn’t a case. Physical and documentary evidence was either nonexistent, or downright exculpatory for the defendants. The accuser’s co-worker strongly doubted the assault could have taken place. And the accuser had a record of odd behavior, and dubious statements, which should have cast her allegations under the darkest shadows of doubt. In any other environment, at any other time, the case would have been quickly laughed out of the system. But not in Durham, with the mix of black anger, academic-world posturing, and politics that prevailed that year.


Among many examples, a cab driver transported one of the defendants at a time he was supposedly busy raping, later the cabbie returned to the house for other fares and saw the area teeming with people and activity, seemingly incompatible with the crime.




New information (he) provided ABC news has expanded his role in the rape investigation from the element of an alibi to an eyewitness of what took place outside 610 North Buchanan Blvd.
“It’s hard to commit a crime if you don’t have the time to do it” may be the argument defense attorneys bring to the table to keep Reade Seligmann, one of the Duke lacrosse players indicted for allegedly raping and kidnapping a 27-year-old woman working as an exotic dancer at an off-campus party, out of prison.


Sources close to the defense say the window of time between the end of the alleged victim’s dance and Seligmann’s departure on the night of the party is too narrow for him for him to have committed the crime.

ABC News April 20, 2006




Drop by drop, evidence emerged which gave the lie to the allegations, or at least robbed them of credibility. There was never any line-up, or photo identification process which went by accepted procedure, so the victim’s ID of the boys was worthless. And then the D.A. cheated in numerous ways, most notoriously hiding, simply trying to bury, exculpatory evidence as it came back from the labs. Among other things, yes, forensics showed the victim had plenty of sexual contact in the hours or days before her complaint. And none of it with Duke Lacrosse team members. 


By late 2006 the tide was turning, by January of the following year Nifong’s prosecution had collapsed. From January, 2007:




In April, Nifong received a judge’s permission to go to a private laboratory for more sophisticated tests, saying “the DNA evidence requested will immediately rule out any innocent persons.
The lab, DNA Security of Burlington, found DNA from at least four unidentified men but not a single cell from any lacrosse player. Brian Meehan, the lab director, discussed the results with Nifong in April and May.


Nifong should have given the results to defense attorneys, something required by state law, the N.C. State Bar rules and U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Instead, Nifong hid the finding of DNA from unidentified men from defense attorneys, who repeatedly asked for all DNA test results, the complaint said. Nifong then lied to the court, either on paper or in direct comments to a judge, on five occasions from May to September, the complaint said.

The Houston Chronicle (The Chron) January 25, 2007




And also:




Nifong was handed new, more serious charges: He withheld favorable DNA evidence from defendants in the Duke lacrosse case and then repeatedly lied about it to judges and the state bar.


Nifong was charged by the bar in December with making inflammatory public statements to reporters and misrepresenting the facts in the case.

Lying is really at the top of the list in terms of things lawyers just can’t do,” said Joseph Kennedy, a University of North Carolina law professor. “And then lying about something as important as evidence suggesting innocence in a serious case, it just doesn’t get any worse than that.

The Houston Chronicle (The Chron) January, 25, 2006




Many a career was derailed by the end of the affair, for example the DNA analyst who apparently cooperated with Nifong in concealing exculpatory results from defense counsel.


 The head of a private laboratory where DNA evidence in the Duke lacrosse case was tested no longer works there.


Dr. Brian Meehan testifies in August at former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong’s criminal contempt hearing.

The move comes less than a month after the former defendants filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Dr. Brian Meehan, former District Attorney Mike Nifong and several others involved in the investigation.

Civil attorneys allege they were part of a “DNA conspiracy” and purposely withheld potentially exculpatory evidence that could have been used to clear their clients of the criminal charges against them.”

WRAL November 7, 2007

Finally, after the hunter (prosecutor) had fully become the hunted, decisive action by the State’s legal apparatus finished off the farce:

North Carolina’s attorney general declared three former Duke University lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting a stripper innocent of all charges on Wednesday, ending a prosecution that provoked bitter debate over race, class and the tactics of the Durham County district attorney. 

The attorney general, Roy A. Cooper, said the players — Reade W. Seligmann, David F. Evans, and Collin Finnerty — had been wrongly accused by an “unchecked” and “overreaching” district attorney who had ignored contradictory evidence and instead relied on the stripper’s “faulty and unreliable” accusations.

“We believe that these cases were the result of a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations,” Mr. Cooper said at a news conference.

“We have no credible evidence that an attack occurred,” he added. Mr. Cooper said he had considered but ultimately rejected the possibility of bringing criminal charges against the accuser, who continues to insist she was attacked at a team party on March 13, 2006, and asked him to go forward with the case. Mr. Cooper said his investigators had told him that the woman “may actually believe the many different stories that she has been telling.” He said his decision not to charge her with making false accusations was also based on a review of sealed court files, which include records of the woman’s mental health history. Mr. Cooper reserved his harshest criticism for the Durham County district attorney,
Michael B. Nifong, at one point even depicting him as a “rogue prosecutor.”

New York Times Apr 12, 2007

The facts had become so obvious that even groups dedicated to making sure the allegations were taken seriously had long since folded tent:

Even some community leaders who had previously argued that the case should have gone to trial did not object to Mr. Cooper’s decision. The North Carolina chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. released a statement saying it respected and accepted the work of the attorney general’s office. Irving Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University, who had been monitoring the case for the N.A.A.C.P., echoed that theme, saying, “Based on my personal knowledge of him and high respect of him, I accept his conclusions.”


Likewise, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one of the largest such groups in the nation, released a statement saying it was satisfied with the attorney general’s decision to drop all charges.

New York Times Apr 12, 2007

That was the end of phase two, the complete turnabout. But what followed was hardly graceful.





When the pendulum swung, it really swung. Accusers became abusers, and the maligned Lacrosse Boys suddenly wore halos, and cloaks of bravery for what they had endured. They had been much, and quite unfairly, persecuted, but upon vindication any poor judgment related to hiring a stripper, and in that sense demeaning the poor, suddenly disappeared. No part of the scandal enjoyed the analysis of shades of gray, everything was raging black, and white, both literally and figuratively.


Not all reaction to the tragedy was over the top, here are a few paragraphs from the national column of distinguished academic economist Thomas Sowell:


The worst thing said in the case involving rape charges against Duke University students was not said by either the prosecutor or the defense attorneys, or even by any of the accusers or the accused. It was said by a student at North Carolina Central University, a black institution attended by the stripper who made rape charges against Duke lacrosse players.

According to Newsweek, the young man at NCCU said that he wanted to see the Duke students prosecuted, “whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past.”

This is the ugly attitude that is casting a cloud over this whole case. More important, this collective guilt and collective revenge attitude has for years been poisoning race relations in this country.

It has torn apart other countries around the world, from the Balkans to Sri Lanka to Rwanda. Nor is there any reason to think that the United States is exempt from such polarization.

Thomas Sowell May 17, 2006


In the bitter aftermath, it became more and more common to see references to the abysmal way the criminal justice system, Duke University, and a “progressive” society in general had engaged the scandal from the start.


About 80 to 90 per cent of the sharpest, most biting criticism came from publications associated with the political right wing. Does that mean that some were happy, if only unconsciously, to see the clock turned back a bit, black accusers as liars, upscale white athletes as heroes, and most of all the liberal media as buffoons? Or is the imbalance due to the fact that left-leaning publications, those far too quick to condemn the “rapists” in the first place, were unwilling to recognize their foolishness and issue appropriate apologies?


On a factual basis, much of the invective against the “liberal” rush to judgment was quite correct, and quite apt. To continue quoting from Mary K. Ham’s enumeration of Lacrosse Scandal sins published in The Federalist:


One of the most frequently spotted protest signs in Durham in the wake of the Duke lacrosse case indictments was “Get a Conscience, Not a Lawyer.” The signs were a reference to the alleged “wall of silence” the players had employed to protect the team.


The residents of the house where the party occurred had been cooperative with a search warrant. The entire team submitted to DNA samples. But they were accused by police, Nifong, and media of being obstructive because team members denied accusations and acquired lawyers to get them through the process, as anyone accused of a crime should do.

A poster featuring all of the lacrosse team members’ pictures was distributed widely on campus and around town with the headline, “Please Come Forward.” There was, it turns out, nothing to come forward about.

The Federalist March 16, 2016


In a stunning irony, a lynch-mob mentality (Lacrosse Team members truly feared for their personal safety during this juncture) with wealthy whites as victims was allowed to hold sway, on a supposedly enlightened campus of the highly educated?

No wonder there was pointed pay-back after all the chickens had come home to roost. There was, objectively speaking, a lot be disgusted about in the rush to judgement on a major college campus. Much of the media fared poorly in retrospect, too–Mary Ham again:


New York Times Public Editor Dan Okrent diagnosed the media coverage of the case in the documentary as journalists excited to find all their pet social-justice issues in one story.


“It was white over black, it was male over female, it was rich over poor, educated over uneducated. All the things that we know happen in the world coming together in one place and journalists, they start to quiver with a thrill when something like this happens,” Okrent said.

The Federalist March 16, 2016


On the other hand, there had been credible reports that one student at the Lacrosse party, for example, had thanked the women of color for coming from stock that “produced his fine cotton shirt,” and other racially insensitive remarks were alleged. Lacrosse players did have he reputation as excessive partiers at times, arrogant at other times.

Young Reade Seigleman did get into an altercation in a bar months before with someone he had snarled at as “Gay,” a matter which landed him court dates and probation. So for the team, in general, to go all the way from uniformly loathed to universally martyred was a swing too extreme in the other direction.

But even before the tide had completely turned, intemperate remarks were heard from the anti-rush-to-judgement crowd, as well…

 In an article in The New York Post, John Podhoretz accused the faculty of “declaring that those students did not deserve the presumption of innocence.” (…a statement that goes too far, even if the Group of 88 were quite foolish). 

And there was some strong pushback at Duke. Stephen Baldwin, professor of chemistry, published a column in The Chronicle on Oct. 23, 2006 asserting that the faculty who had “savaged the character” of the lacrosse players should be “tarred and feathered, ridden out of town on a rail and removed from the academy.”


The careful analyst will note the irony: Professor Baldwin, addressing what he viewed as a lack of care and restraint in the behavior of the original “88” faculty, abandons restraint and temperance himself in remarks which sail way over the top. He thus made himself the photographic negative of Houston Baker, the radical professor who quickly perceived how justice could be met in light of the accusations—disband the lacrosse team and expel all its students. Magnetism, and media-ready discourse, seems to thrive on the wild push and pull of the polar opposites.

This is part of why we call it The Year That Durham Went Mad. Something in the water may have widely affected brain cells and mitigated and against a reasoned, intelligent approach to the issues at hand.


In a postscript, almost too good, that is to say to bad and painful and unfortunate to be true, the disturbed young woman whose allegations cost towns and universities tens if not hundreds of millions, cost numerous citizens their jobs and peace of mind, she won’t be seen again, not for a while. Locked away, she wears the orange suit. Her latest transgression–the murder of her boyfriend.


The woman who falsely accused three Duke University lacrosse players of rape seven years ago has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2011 stabbing death of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, 46. The woman, Crystal Mangum, 34, was sentenced to 14 to 18 years in prison. In 2006, Ms. Mangum claimed Duke lacrosse players gang-raped her at a team party where she was hired as a stripper. After a disastrous local prosecution that led to the downfall of the district attorney, the state attorney general’s office concluded there was no credible evidence an attack had occurred.

Associated Press November 22, 2013




An early public radio story looked at some of the nuance, but the basically political way in which University leadership tried to thread the needle seemed evident:

When President Brodhead addressed the press last March in his first major statement after the lacrosse party, he faced a frenzied media and a tense campus. He issued a finessed statement that would define Duke’s position for months to come: not taking a stand on whether the exotic dancer was attacked at the party, but condemning the student behavior that led to the allegations.

Students have acknowledged the private party dancers; they have acknowledged there was underage drinking at the party,” Brodhead said. “I would say about it that the behavior was bad behavior, boorish behavior, immature behavior, and inappropriate behavior. But from there to what is alleged is still a very, very serious step.”

Though he asked people not to prejudge the criminal case, Brodhead took action against the team. He accepted the coach’s resignation, canceled the rest of the season — and when three players were indicted for rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping, he suspended them from school.

But as the case has evolved, Brodhead’s response has come under scrutiny, especially after the most serious charges — the rape allegations — were dropped in December.

Now, some critics say Duke administrators were too harsh.

“They were running for cover, and they weren’t worried about these three young men,” says Diane Goldstein Block, the mother of a Duke graduate, and a former donor to the school. She believes the players are innocent, but fears Duke’s administration made them look guilty.

NPR February 2, 2007

Analysts of the Lacrosse case can spend 20 to 30 hours, or more, just reading blog posts from the past—and almost into the present. KC Johnson, the co-author of the hard-hitting book albeit with an apparent slant from the right, kept up the aptly titled “Durham in Wonderland” for some years. His own post below from July 2014—you can Google his comments and countless others. Note that the Group of 88 lives on, in a certain infamy in most circles:

An utter lack of accountability within the academy for those faculty members who abandoned due process (and, in some cases, appeared to violate Duke regulations) was apparent almost from the start in the case, and remains so today.

No fewer than nine Group members were hired away from Duke, often for more prestigious po-sitions, despite (because of?) their activism in the Group. Cathy Davidson—author of the Group apologia that invented a spring 2006 that never existed—was the latest, having just joined the faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center. She joins Grant Farred (Cornell, which got a taste of the contempt for students he had demonstrated at Duke); Houston Baker (Vanderbilt); Charles Payne (University of Chicago); and Rom Coles (Northern Arizona, endowed chair) in moving onto greener pastures. Meanwhile, three signatories who were members of the University Writing Program received full-time, tenure-track positions—Jason Mahn at Augustana, Matthew Brim at the College of Staten Island, and Christine Beaule at the University of Hawaii—while a fourth (Caroline Light) was appointed to an administrative-teaching position at Harvard’s women’s studies program.

Several other Group signatories advanced at Duke. Srinivas Aravamudan currently serves as Duke’s dean of the humanities. Lee Baker is dean of academic affairs at Trinity College. And Paula McClain is dean of the graduate school, and vice provost for graduate education. Clearly the role of their behavior in causing a multi-million dollar settlement was no barrier in the Group members’ standing at Duke.

Imagine if the lacrosse case had featured a race-baiting DA, on behalf of a white false accuser, going after African-American students to advance his political career. Does anyone believe that professors who abandoned due process to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the DA, affirming that something “happened” to the false accuser, would not have faced professional repercussions in the contemporary academy?

NPR February 2, 2007

The blogger certainly ends with a point which is hard to ignore…

The Durham police, the local prosecutor’s office, an entire community of well over 100,000, the press locally, nationally, and internationally, all were tried, tested, and bruised in one fashion or another in The Year That Durham Went Mad. But one institution above all was at the nexus of the conflagration, Duke University itself. And given the conceit that all great universities have—that things are done more thoughtfully there, that a lofty moral and intellectual standard runs through the very fiber of the institution—it’s fair to ask what Duke’s responsibilities were, and how the school’s leadership, faculty, and student body met the challenge.

Yes it’s always there, in the brochures and school catalogues, in the speeches that University presidents give on solemn occasions, it’s always there, the rarified moral purpose to which the Academy aspires. It’s logical enough—if an institution full of permanent scholars and permanent scholarship can’t stake out a distance apart from superficial thinking and prejudice, can’t dig deep and penetrate the meaning of the toughest questions, then just where can we look for such wisdom?

So, how did Duke handle the challenge?

An alumnus who achieved significant success after graduation, ESPN analyst (and attorney) Jay Bilas, offered the following letter to Duke Magazine in late 2006, but they declined to print it. Regrettably.

Dear Editor,
A true leader has the vision and courage to recognize what is right, especially in the face of adversity, and fears not the consequences of unreasonable response. A true leader needs not the benefit of hindsight to make clear the right path. From March 2006 to date, President Brodhead’s mishandling of the challenges presented has proven him incapable of effectively leading Duke into the future.

While President Brodhead can point to a few ineffectually communicated words here and there for a feeble claim that he “emphasized” the protection of the rights of Duke’s students, his claim fails the laugh test. The vast majority of his words and actions, and in many cases his silence, emphasized an aura of guilt of the students and of the university. From the beginning, President Brodhead abdicated his responsibility as Duke’s leader to stand up for fairness and truth. Instead, President Brodhead chose the path of political expediency. He failed to effectively counter factually inaccurate and inappropriate statements about Duke and its students, failed to forcefully speak out against procedural irregularities and failed to take appropriate action in response to repeated attacks upon the due process rights of Duke’s students. That is unacceptable.

If such failures in leadership are not enough, for the same reasons that President Brodhead forced the resignation of lacrosse coach Mike Pressler — because confidence in his ability to lead had been compromised, and a need to move forward in a new direction — President Brodhead should resign or be dismissed. And, based upon [trustee chair] Bob Steel’s letter of April 11, 2006, in which Mr. Steel stated that the board agreed with the principles President Brodhead established and the actions he took, the resignation of Mr. Steel and any board members that acted in lockstep with President Brodhead are also appropriate.

Jay Bilas, Duke Magazine    Concerns about the explosion of sentiment on Duke’s campus in the Spring of 2006 went way beyond the actions taken, or not taken, by the institution’s president. We have to back up and look at student, and faculty, reaction. Male lacrosse players report being scowled at on campus like crude, dangerous Neanderthals. Mostly the pre-judgment and distain came from other students, but there was the famous faculty over-reaction as well—the aforementioned Group of 88 and other expressions of outrage that at least SEEMED to pre-judge, for example. (Professor Houston Baker opined that the whole lot  (lacrosse players) should be expelled—interesting, Vanderbilt offered him employment, which he accepted.) A few students even reported being penalized in particular classes by professors who seemed to have acquired instant distain, and a few grades were changed later upon appeal to the University.

Pressler, a former national coach of the year, said he considered it “blasphemy” to leave his team in crisis. At the same time, he was being inundated with hate mail and found signs in his front yard mocking his support of “the Duke rapists.”

“Google up one of the boys’ names, my name … you saw the word ‘rape,’ ‘sexual assault’ next to your name,” … “That just was, even today, I get emotional about it.”

Given the choice of resigning or risk being fired, Pressler stepped aside. A few months later, he was hired by Bryant University in Rhode Island, where he still coaches.

“[Loyalty] is everything,” he said. “Without that, as a man, you have nothing.

WRAL April 9, 2015

It was all unprecedented, if that not only explains and in some ways forgives the raging over-reactions. WRAL-TV’s archive quoted locally famous attorney

Wade Smith:
Attorney Wade Smith, who represented one of the players, recalled… the storm of controversy that followed the campus, the lacrosse team and the players for months.

“Duke University never could’ve been prepared for this. I mean, who could’ve been?” Smith said. “There were people marching in the streets, people with pitchforks. The community was furious.”

WRAL April 9, 2015

Yes, the unprecedented. By definition we’re all unprepared for that. But, the question is writ large, ever larger really as it recedes into sad history.

The University.

The Academy.

The repository of knowledge and wisdom.

How did it do, when it’s leadership was sorely needed?


“The University” is a shorthand for numerous players, who should perhaps not all be tarred with the same brush, but include among others, John Burness, as senior vice-president for public affairs and government relations, Larry Moneta as vice-president for student affairs, Sue Wasiolek as student dean, and Joe Alleva as Duke University Athletic Director, as well as President Brodhead, of course. Analysts of the case are free to read full-length books and other materials on the case, but the basics boil down to whether Duke adequately stood up for accused students in their time of trial. Brodhead, at the vortex of all this and probably the ultimate decision-maker, pleads the situation was so difficult, multi-faceted, and unpredictable that no one could have always planned their next move perfectly—the case ran away with an awful energy of its own.

“I am certainly at ease in my conscience with the role that I played,” he said in a post-mortem for the Duke Chronicle, March 10 of 2016 at the 10-year anniversary of the case.

No question, the juggling act a university administrator must play is staggering, balancing the concerns raised by a) trustees b) donors c) alumni d) faculty e) students f) community, and g) media and public perception. The University’s relations with a surrounding (in this case angry) community are strong considerations, as are present and future alumni and donor perception. Any University President will probably plead, “You have really no idea what threading all those needles is like,” and indeed most of us would probably find it eye-opening to face those challenges for even a single day. In the Chronicle article, Brodhead relates at some length the trying times of the lacrosse debacle.

Looking back and examining his role in the case, however, Brodhead said there is little he could have done differently.

When discussing the yearlong saga, Brodhead described himself as someone who was swept up in an unpredictable and fundamentally unwinnable situation. From the start of the case, he said, the confusion surrounding what actually happened meant that it was hard to foresee how serious the allegations were and how uncontrollable their fallout would become.

Brodhead said the first memory he has of the incident is hearing from the office of Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, after asking Moneta about reports that something had happened at a party in a house off East Campus. He was given the impression that any fallout from the party at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. would blow over quickly, he said.

“What I was told was their office had heard about this and made some inquiries, and what they had heard was that there was a lot of doubt about the story that the woman was telling,” he explained. “It was their impression that this would blow over.”

Brodhead, who arrived at Duke in Summer 2004, said that he remembered that report because the doubts that surfaced early on would turn out to be prescient.

Duke Chronicle March 10, 2016

None of these comments address fundamental moral issues—presumption of innocence as an example—but do speak to an administrator’s consciousness: the lie of the land looked this way or that way at this point in time. It’s much more of a strategic take on events, not a moral one.

In the same interview, more strategic analysis:

Brodhead described the lacrosse scandal as an explosive mixture of classic college-town community tensions and an unscrupulous district attorney that would have rankled any university unfortunate enough to be involved.

“When you look at the event magnified by the false accusation and then raised to the nth power by the DA’s assertions, you had a story from hell,” he said. “You had a story designed to inflame every passion in this city, and believe me, it would not only have been in this city that it would have happened.”

Brodhead did include an apology among his remarks:

“The fact is that we did not get it right, causing the families to feel abandoned when they most needed support,” he wrote in a 2007 statement. “This was a mistake. I take responsibility for it, and I apologize.

Duke Chronicle March 10, 2016

For some, it was a handsome apology of someone in a nearly-impossible situation, who naturally might look back and recognize one or two things that might have been done differently. For others, it was a non-apology apology, the kind where a person says in perfunctory fashion, ‘Well, if anyone was offended, I’m so sorry offense was taken…’ They would have rather he said, ‘We abandoned students and their families, and there is no excuse.’


The case against Duke in the lacrosse case alleges, as in Jay Bilas’s letter above, a severe failure to hew to fundamental moral pillars.

As represented by the University’s top administration, the leadership simply failed to hold fast to three fundamental principles as key ideas in their decision-making:

1) The Presumption of Innocence is paramount, sacred as if it were the Eleventh Commandment. If a University cannot hold on to that anchor of human decency, civility, and common sense in its actions, it has failed already.

2) Guilt by Association is Wrong, Always. Almost as basic as principle number one, it perhaps should be a Twelfth Commandment. If ultimately one or two lacrosse players had been prosecuted and punished for sexual violence against their guest-stripper, what would that have to do with the other players, many not even at the party or in the vicinity? Why would that implicate the coach? (If the call for blood required broad associations of guilt, why not tar and feather the lacrosse-field grounds keepers, and equipment handlers? Why not expel all the male players and the female lacrosse players as well, after all several lacrosse girls were known to have close, sibling-like connections with their male counterparts and supported them in the crisis. Why not tar and feather them as well?)

3) The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth rarely come packaged as a concise, 100-character tweet. Truth however you define it is generally more complex, and reveals itself In the Fullness of Time. Otherwise, trials in serious crimes would last five or six minutes, not the five to six weeks–and sometimes five to six months–required to fully explore evidence and testimony. And graduate student research would not take years and thousands of hours, but just minutes here and there. A Rush to Judgment should thus be as reflexively anathema to the Academy as a mail-carrier tossing his bag in the trash, because t’s heavy, before bringing your letters to you, or a surgeon operating with filthy, ungloved hands.

Again the WRAL archives, quoting attorney Wade Smith:

“Things are not always as they seem,” Smith said. “It would always be smart to wait, if you can, and let the facts clarify themselves. In retrospect, it would’ve been good for Duke to do that.”

Unfortunately, he said, that lesson still needs to be learned, citing the uproar over a “Rolling Stone” story about a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity that later proved to be unfounded.

“The truth is not going to just come and sit in your lap. You’ve got to look for it and find it. You’ve got to not leap to conclusions, and you’ve got to not assume people are guilty,” he said. “The lesson is already gone. We didn’t really learn it for keeps.”

WRAL April 9, 2015

Almost on the lighter side, if there were a lighter side…

Even the sidebars, the tangential issues help make clear that once our society declares a disaster, it’s a disaster, perhaps not for attorneys and billable hours, but for almost anyone else. Just as an example, imagine the scene—Duke keeping it’s payoff to abused parties so confidential that even their liability insurer was left out of the loop, and then demanding the insurer pay up.

At times words will fail us, and remind us why we study True Mystery and true stories with hidden dimensions. No fiction could ever be as strange, interesting, and telling about the sort of society in which we dwell.

Saying it has been left out of talks, Duke University’s insurer is refusing to pay the settlement costs connected to the infamous rape case against three of the school’s lacrosse players who were eventually cleared of all charges.

On Tuesday, National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., a unit of insurance giant AIG, protested the idea that it would have to pay up, contending that it was left out of the talks between the university and the players’ families.

“National Union also specifically advised that Duke should not ‘admit or assume any liability, enter into any settlement agreement, stipulate to any judgment or incur any defense costs without the prior written consent of National Union,’” the papers said.

The insurer says that Duke officials did not inform the company about the truce until after it was reached, a violation of its contract with the university, and that previous communications did not amount to filing a claim.

The two have been tussling since at least November, when the university took National Union to court in an attempt to compel the insurer to pick up the tab for the settlement reached with the three exonerated players — David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

For its part, Duke claims that it could not release information about the deal due to a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement.

“Duke subsequently advised National Union that Duke would not share information with National Union on its settlement with the Duke Three due to the confidentiality provisions of the settlement,” the order said.

Law360 January 21, 2009



  • Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case by Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson (2007); ISBN 0-312-36912-3
  • It’s Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case and the Lives It Shattered by Don Yaeger & Mike Pressler (2007); ISBN 1-4165-5146-8
  • A Rush to Injustice: How Power, Prejudice, Racism, and Political Correctness Overshadowed Truth and Justice in the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case by Nader Baydoun and R. Stephanie Good (2007); ISBN 978-1-59555-118-4
  • The Duke Lacrosse Case: A Documentary History and Analysis of the Modern Scottsboro by R. B. Parrish (2009); ISBN 978-1-4392-3590-4
  • Party Like a Lacrosse Star by Paul Montgomery (2007); ISBN 978-0-615-17150-0
  • The Last Dance for Grace: The Crystal Gale Mangum Story by Crystal Gale Mangum & Edward Clark (2008); ISBN 978-0-9817837-0-3
  • The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities by William D. Cohan (2014); ISBN 978-1-4516-8179-6