Next week's planned hearing on the lacrosse case has been postponed until May, defense attorneys announced Tuesday after meeting with the special prosecutors that have taken over the case.
The two new prosecutors, appointed earlier this month by North Carolina State Attorney General Roy Cooper to replace Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, will use the additional time to investigate further charges of sexual offense and kidnapping against three members of the 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team. Rape charges against the three players were dropped in December.
"We will use this time to continue reviewing the case files, talking to the many people involved in the case and making sure that all discovery requests have been responded to properly," Cooper said in a statement Tuesday.
The hearing is now planned for May 7, more than three months after the initial Feb. 5 date at which the alleged victim was expected to appear.
Jim Cooney, a defense attorney for indicted player Reade Seligmann, said he was not surprised by the delay. "The two special prosecutors just got six boxes of stuff about a week ago.... I want to give them a chance to read up on the file and to make a good-faith effort to read what they need to read and to interview the witnesses," Cooney said, adding that there is a significant chance the prosecution will decide to drop the charges before May.
Joe Cheshire, an attorney for David Evans, Trinity '06, told the Associated Press he anticipated more meetings between the defense team and the attorney general's staff. "We are very hopeful about this case, and where it stands, and where it will go, and at least we know that it will be dealt with professionally," Cheshire said.
Duke law professor James Coleman, a frequent commentator on the case, cautioned against reading too far into the postponement. "The way I read this story, this is simply an interim deadline and it could be moved up or moved back depending on the progress made," Coleman said.
He added that the delay indicates the new prosecutor is willing to look at the case from all angles. "The lawyers on both sides appear to be interested in what the facts are and whether there is any basis for criminal charges," Coleman said. "If you recall, Nifong refused to look at any of the evidence from the defense and indicted a guy without looking at his alibi."
Although some delay is inevitable when lawyers get involved with a case, the length of the postponement comes as surprise, said Duke law professor Thomas Metzloff.
"There are a lot of judges I know who would have given them a month, but not three months-it's a long extension," Metzloff said. "There are certain speedy trial rights that don't seem to have been implemented in this case."
Metzloff speculated that the judge would like to see the glare of the national media fade by May, but Cooney said he is not optimistic.
"If those hearings happen on May 7, I think it will be the typical feeding frenzy that we've seen," Cooney said.
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David Graham contributed to this article.?