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ISSUE 120 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/20/2007

Lacrosse acquittal troubles

By Kelly Wilson
Staff Writer

Friday, April 20, 2007

In criminal trials the U.S. legal system requires the prosecution to prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” These days, doubt seems to be the only notion defining the prosecution’s handling of the notorious Duke lacrosse scandal.

In light of several developments that cast a dim light upon the mental credentials of the alleged victim and led to the dropping of all charges last Wednesday, the fact that bringing the case to trial was ever considered stands as a mockery of state legal proceedings. This case exemplifies the potential failings of the court system and the liberties that a tunnel-visioned district attorney can take with full carte blanche.

When the press caught wind of the story last year, the case was ripe to spark media frenzy. Three rich white males from privileged communities invite a young lower class black woman to strip at a raucous team party. Introduce heightened levels of alcohol and testosterone and things turn ugly. The players barrage her with verbal insults and racial slurs. After she tries to leave, they manage to coax her back into the house. Then three of the players hold her hostage and proceed to attack and rape her.

While two witnesses did verify the racial insults, no one was able to uphold the bulk of the accuser’s argument, which has changed many times between now and last year. Her credibility as a witness is so badly tarnished, in fact, that it has caused the press to shed light on her history of mental health issues. While this revelation was another sensational trick of an overzealous media, it also thickened the doubt in the quagmire of the prosecution’s case.

As the months went on and the incongruities in the stripper’s account continued to mount, so did the pressure on District Attorney Michael B. Nifong to dismiss the charges. But Nifong arrogantly refused to back down. He vilified the players to the press, calling them “hooligans” and later retracting his statement. He also withheld several key pieces of knowledge from defense lawyers, including tests explicitly showing that no DNA from the defendants, or any member of the lacrosse team, was found in the woman. However, DNA from several other men was.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, who took over the case once Nifong was finally deemed incompetent, blamed the collapse of the case upon “a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations.” Indeed, the allegations were quite serious. The men would have served 30 years in prison had they gone to trial and been convicted.

Looking at the deeper implications of the case brings up questions of privilege and white patriarchal male authority. Exposed is the pomp of the college sports parade that many privileged white males enjoy and often abuse. Many of the players had previous convictions, ranging from minor alcohol offenses to urinating in public. Our boys fit the wild, reckless, politically incorrect yuppie stereotype.

But this does not a criminal make. It is unlawful and unethical to brand someone a rapist just because of his or her race and class. That goes for any person of any race or background. You can't indict three people, ruining a year of their lives and causing irrevocable repercussions throughout the rest of it, in the name of a zealous political blitzkrieg.

While the moral integrity of the players is arguable, it is by no means a matter for a jury to decide upon. What needed to be distinguished was the evidence indicting whether their behavior that night was lawful. In this case, there is no evidence to the contrary. Nifong should have ended his biased crusade long ago. For now, as rumors about possible charges against him arise, Nifong can enjoy reaping the fruits of his own masterfully orchestrated legal circus.

Staff Writer Kelly Wilson is a senior from Wheaton, Ill. She majors in English with a media studies concentration.

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