Lawyer calls indictment of his clients 'a tragedy'

Updated: April 18, 2006, 1:55 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DURHAM, N.C. -- A grand jury issued sealed indictments Monday against two members of the Duke University lacrosse team in connection with allegations that an exotic dancer was sexually assaulted last month at a team party, a defense attorney said.

"Today, two young men have been charged with crimes they did not commit," attorney Robert Ekstrand said in a statement. "This is a tragedy. For the two young men, an ordeal lies ahead. ... They are both innocent."

Ekstrand, who represents dozens of players, did not say which players were indicted or what charges they faced.

Sources told ESPN that the two players are expected to turn themselves in to authorities either Tuesday or Wednesday, at which time the indictments will be unsealed.

The grand jury adjourned around 2 p.m. Monday, handing up indictments a short time later to Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens. A filing at the courthouse said the judge had sealed at least one indictment, citing a state law that allows an indictment to be "kept secret until the defendant is arrested or appears before the court."

The indictments mean that the grand jury believes there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.

A 27-year-old black woman told police she was attacked March 13 by three white men in a bathroom at a party held by the lacrosse team. Prosecutors have informed defense attorneys that the alleged victim has identified two players with 100 percent certainty and is 90 percent certain on a third player, ABC News reports.

At Duke, the university's chief spokesman said the school knew little about what had taken place in court Monday.

"We are aware that the district attorney made a presentation to the grand jury today, but we have no knowledge about the contents of his presentation," said John F. Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations. "At this point we remain unclear about the precise status of this case and we must simply wait for news of today's proceedings.

"Until we have greater clarity it would be inappropriate to comment further."

The racially charged allegations have led to near daily protest rallies. The school canceled the highly ranked team's season and accepted the resignation of coach Mike Pressler after the release of a vulgar and graphic e-mail that was sent by a team member shortly after the alleged assault.

An attorney for Ryan McFadyen, the player who sent the e-mail, said his client was not among those indicted.

"I've heard there were two sealed indictments returned," Glen Bachman said, declining to say who told him about the indictments. "Nobody's called me specifically and said you need to have your client here in the morning. I think you guys will know what you need to know" on Tuesday.

Butch Williams, who represents team captain Dan Flannery, also said prosecutors told him that his client was not among those charged.

Defense attorneys have urged District Attorney Mike Nifong to drop the case, saying DNA tests failed to connect any of the 46 team members tested to the alleged victim.

Nifong has said 75 percent to 80 percent of rape prosecutions lack DNA evidence. According to court records, a medical examination of the woman found injuries consistent with sexual assault.

There were numerous conferences involving defense lawyers and members of the district attorney's office in hallways of the courthouse Monday morning. At several points during the day, Nifong declined to comment when asked about the case.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.