Attorneys: No DNA match in Duke lacrosse case

Updated: April 11, 2006, 9:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DURHAM, N.C. -- DNA testing failed to connect any members of the Duke University men's lacrosse team to the alleged sexual assault of an exotic dancer, attorneys for some of the players said Monday.

Citing DNA test results delivered by the state crime lab to police and prosecutors a few hours earlier, the attorneys said the test results prove their clients did not sexually assault and beat a dancer hired to perform at a March 13 team party.

No charges have been filed in the case.

Duke players ineligible for
ACC postseason awards
None of Duke's men's lacrosse players will be considered for the Atlantic Coast Conference's postseason awards.

The ACC announced its decision in a news release Monday and also said it has revised the seeding procedure and bracket for the conference's lacrosse tournament.

Because Duke decided to call off the remainder of its men's lacrosse season last week, its loss to Maryland on March 4 and victory over North Carolina on March 18 have been ruled no-contests for seeding purposes only, the ACC said.

Second-seeded Maryland will play third-seeded North Carolina in the first game of the tournament, with the winner advancing to play top-seeded Virginia in the championship game.

The ACC lacrosse tournament is April 28 and 30 in Baltimore.

"There is no DNA evidence that shows she was touched by any of these boys," said Joe Cheshire, an attorney who represents one of the team's captains.

The allegations have led to the resignation of coach Mike Pressler, the cancellation of the season and the suspension of one player from school.

The case also led to days of protests on and off the Duke campus, and some of the players have moved for safety reasons.

According to court documents, only lacrosse team members were at the party. Authorities ordered 46 of the 47 players to submit DNA samples to investigators, who compared them with evidence collected from the woman.

Because the woman said her attackers were white, the team's sole black player was not tested. It was not known whether investigators tested for DNA other than the players'.

Cheshire said the report indicated authorities took DNA samples from all over the alleged victim's body, including under her fingernails, and from her possessions, such as her cell phone and her clothes.

"They swabbed about every place they could possibly swab from her, in which there could be any DNA," he said.

District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he would have other evidence to make his case should the DNA analysis prove inconclusive or fail to match a member of the team.

Nifong's assistant told The Associated Press on Monday the prosecutor would not comment on the findings, but Nifong told The News & Observer of Raleigh he thinks a sexual assault took place.

"I'm not saying it's over," he told the newspaper. "If that's what they expect, they will be sadly disappointed."

John Burness, Duke's senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, responded in a statement posted on the school's Web site:

"As both President [Richard] Brodhead and I have said repeatedly over the past few weeks, we have to have confidence that the police investigation will ultimately reveal the truth. While the criminal allegations in this case are extremely serious, it is important to remember that no one has been charged and that in our system of law people are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

North Carolina Central University, where the alleged victim is a student, said after the results were released that the prosecutor would appear at a campus forum on Tuesday to discuss the case.

"The truth is if you speak to crime lab directors, they will tell you that in only a relatively small number of cases is there any DNA evidence," said Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project.

Cheshire said even if the alleged attackers used a condom, it's likely there would have been some DNA evidence found suggesting an assault took place. He said in this case, the report states there was no DNA on her to indicate that she had sex of any type recently.

"The experts will tell you that if there was a condom used they would still be able to pick up DNA, latex, lubricant and all other types of things to show that -- and that's not here," he said.

Stan Goldman, who teaches criminal law, evidence and criminal procedure at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the DNA results don't mean that Nifong can't go forward with the case -- but the test results make a successful prosecution much harder.

"Isn't the absence of DNA evidence, given the way the victim has described the crime, in and of itself almost enough to raise a reasonable doubt?" he said. "That's all the defense has to do."

Robert Archer, whose son, Breck, is a member of the lacrosse team, said the test results only confirmed for parents what they already knew.

"I know the kids on the team and I know they're innocent," said Archer, of East Quogue, N.Y.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.