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Duke, ex-players reach terms of private settlement

6/18/2007

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University has reached an undisclosed
financial settlement with three former lacrosse players falsely
accused of rape, while a judge said late Monday he would order the
disbarred prosecutor to leave office immediately.

We welcomed their exoneration and deeply regret the difficult year they and their families have had to endure.

Duke University statement

Duke had suspended Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave
Evans after they were charged last year with raping a stripper at
an off-campus party. The university also canceled the team's season
and forced their coach to resign.

"We welcomed their exoneration and deeply regret the difficult
year they and their families have had to endure," the school said
Monday in a statement. "These young men and their families have
been the subject of intense scrutiny that has taken a heavy toll."

The allegations were debunked in April by state prosecutors, who
said the players were the innocent victims of a "tragic rush to
accuse" by Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong. He was
disbarred Saturday for breaking more than two dozen rules of
professional conduct in his handling of the case.

The players' families racked up millions of dollars of legal
bills in their defense, and appear likely to file a lawsuit against
Nifong.

The players said in a joint statement that they hoped the
agreement would "begin to bring the Duke family back together
again."

"The events of the last year tore the Duke community apart, and
forcibly separated us from the university we love," they said.
"We were the victims of a rogue prosecutor concerned only with
winning an election, and others determined to railroad three Duke
lacrosse players and to diminish the reputation of Duke
University."

Earlier Monday, Nifong said he planned to leave office next
month in a resignation letter to Gov. Mike Easley and to Superior
Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who is overseeing a pending request to
remove Nifong from office.

"It is my fervent hope that this action will spare this
community the further anguish a removal hearing would entail and
will allow the healing process to move forward," Nifong wrote.

But Nifong's July 13 departure date wasn't soon enough for
Hudson, who decided late Monday to suspend Nifong from office.

As part of the suspension, Hudson said he would order the
sheriff on Tuesday to prevent Nifong from carrying out any duties
of the district attorney.

"I have thought about the situation, and this is the way I wish
to proceed," said Hudson, who initially agreed to allow Nifong
work until next month.

A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar
concluded Saturday that Nifong had lied to the court, made
inflammatory statements about the three indicted players and their
teammates, and withheld critical DNA evidence from defense
attorneys. After some administrative steps, Nifong will have 30
days to turn in his law license.

Dick Ellis, a spokesman for the state Administrative Office of
the Courts, said Nifong will still be eligible for his full
retirement benefits -- a pension and health care -- that he accrued
while working a state employee for nearly 30 years. But because he
served fewer than five years as district attorney, he is not vested
in a more lucrative retirement system for judges, prosecutors and
the director of the courts office.

There was no word on whom Easley will chose to replace Nifong,
who was appointed in 2005. The governor said Monday he would
immediately remove Nifong -- who has worked in the district
attorney's office since 1978 -- if he could.

"You are given a lot of power and you can destroy a reputation
in moments with just a few words," said Easley, a former
prosecutor. "This was much more than a mistake."