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The Trial

This is just the beginning. Four months after allegations that lacrosse players raped a exotic dancer at an off-campus party surfaced, after three students were indicted by a grand jury, after Duke cancelled the team's season and its coach resigned, this is still just the beginning.

The litany of court appearances for recent graduate David Evans, and juniors Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann seem never-ending-discovery hearings have led to more discovery hearings, and District Attorney Mike Nifong says that a proper trial likely will not begin until next spring. But that hasn't stopped the steady drip of evidence from explaining pieces of the case. Until the trial comes and goes, however, the whole story will remain largely in the dark.

Both sides are clinging to their positions-Nifong has shown no signs of dropping the case, and defense lawyers aren't about to cut a plea deal any time soon. They have instead declared time and again that the prosecution's evidence is weak and incomplete, asking Nifong's office for the accuser's cell phone records and the full disclosure of investigators' files.

Nifong has already handed over CDs, a videotape and more than 1,800 pages of evidence to defense attorneys, who say it all reveals nothing but their clients' innocence.

"There is not one single thing in those documents that implicates those players," says Seligmann's lawyer Kirk Osborn, referring to the most recent batch of evidence Nifong provided. "Twenty-seven pages have relevance... It's mostly criminal background checks for the players."

He and the team of lawyers representing the charged players have filed motions that reveal conflicting evidence from the night and a questionable identification process.

Days after the alleged rape occurred, Kim Roberts, the other dancer hired to perform at the party, told investigators that the accusation was "a crock," that the accuser insisted on returning to the party because "there was more money to be made." She has since changed her mind, telling The Associated Press and other media outlets that she believes something more than underage drinking happened that March 13 night of the party.

Testimony from the alleged victim and her driver also revealed that she had performed with a vibrator for a couple before the party. And the number of men the accuser claimed to be involved ranges in various police reports from 3 to 20.

All of these details, along with a questionable police ID process, will be what defense lawyers throw at Nifong, judges and potentially a jury to bolster their clients' case.

Police did not show the accuser "fillers" in the ID process, leading many to challenge the validity of her identification. "Fillers" are used to level the playing ground, to provide the equivalent of wrong answers on a multiple-choice test. But police did not ask her to identify her attackers; they asked her merely to state if she remembered them at the party and to describe what they were doing.

Osborn has also publicized the fact that his client Seligmann has an alibi, saying ATM receipts, DukeCard records and a cab driver's testimony prove that he could not have committed the alleged crime that night.

Yet the case has continued to boil, and Nifong plans to try all three-preferably together. He has filed a motion to lump the defendants together and conduct a single trial against the former teammates and their team of lawyers.

Speculation about the trial has run rampant among pundits, talking heads and members of the Duke and Durham communities in recent weeks. Some want to see Nifong off the case; others expect a change of venue to a nearby county, and some can't wait to see a trial begin.

The future of this case is essentially speculative, for the man that potentially knows the most about the case has been notoriously mum for several months. Nifong, the enigmatic DA, now legally cannot discuss the case with the media, even though he spoke for several weeks after the news broke in late March. Nifong has since indicted three players, as he said he would, and won the May Democratic primary election.

Adding to the multitude of twists and turns this case has seen is the emergence of Lewis Cheek, a county Commissioner who in about a week's time gathered more than 9,000 signatures of support that will give him the opportunity to run against Nifong in the November general election. Cheek, another Democrat, will likely appear on voting ballots as an unaffiliated candidate.

Many of his supporters cite discontent with Nifong's handling of the lacrosse case as the reason that Cheek should be put on the ballot. And Jackie Brown, Nifong's campaign coordinator during the spring, has signed on to be the treasurer of Cheek's campaign committee.

Cheek has said that if elected, he would ask the N.C. Attorney General to assign a special prosecutor to the lacrosse investigation, thereby removing the case from Nifong's jurisdiction.

Whatever the case may be, the only thing that seems clear at this point is that the future holds all of the answers to the never-ending stream of questions this case continues to pose.

With a long line of hearings expected to take place throughout the fall and an election that could change everything, it looks like the case that has pummeled Duke and Durham and enraptured countless others across the country will find closure-but not for a while.

This is just the beginning, but the hope that there will in fact be an end, that a trial will reveal all that there is to know, is what keeps everyone bound to the story.

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