Number 2: The Lacrosse Case

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It started, as we all know by now, with a Spring Break party hosted by the lacrosse players at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd March 13, 2006. It burgeoned into one of the most difficult crises the University has ever had to confront in its history as well as one of the most prominent examples of prosecutorial misconduct in the nation.

Crystal Gail Mangum, one of two exotic dancers hired to perform at the lacrosse party, falsely accused three members of the 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team of rape. Even as the team's captains "unequivocally" denied the allegations, their season was cancelled, head coach Mike Pressler was forced to resign and the case garnered national media attention as the Gothic Wonderland was swarmed with reporters and cameras looking for a story that seemingly spoke volumes about the intersection of race, sex and privilege (or not). Protestors too made their presence in Durham felt, culminating in the New Black Panthers for Self-Defense staging a demonstration just off campus in May.

Adding fuel to the fire, a group of 88 Duke professors printed an ad in The Chronicle in the midst of the allegations, asking, "What does a social disaster sound like?"--an act that drew ire from many in the following months.

Meanwhile, state investigators found that no lacrosse team members' DNA matched biological evidence taken from Mangum and time-stamped photographs of the players further drew her varying accounts of the night into question. Nevertheless, then-Durham district attorney Mike Nifong told the media he was "convinced that there was a rape" and proceeded with his investigation. Sophomores Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were charged with first degree forcible rape, first degree sexual offense and first degree kidnapping April 18. A month later, the day after his graduation, David Evans was also indicted. He told reporters that the accusations were "fantastic lies."

Despite the continued lack of evidence and dubiousness of Mangum's claims, however, Nifong pushed on with the charges, winning his bid for re-election to the DA's office in November 2006 against Lewis Cheek and write-in candidate Steve Monks. It was not until Mangum said she could no longer confidently testify that she was penetrated in that Nifong dropped the rape charges against Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans in late December. At the same time, the North Carolina State Bar launched an inquiry into possible ethics violations on Nifong's part. The DA recused himself from the case days later, handing the investigation over to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.

On April 11, 2007, after a four-month review of the case, Cooper dropped the remaining charges of sexual assault and kidnapping at a nationally televised press conference and took the unusual step of proclaiming the three indicted players "innocent" as well as condemning Nifong's conduct.

The episode, however, was not entirely over. Duke announced a settlement with Finnerty, Evans and Seligmann and

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their families for an undisclosed amount of money in June. Days later, Nifong resigned from the office of Durham district attorney as the State Bar concluded their investigation into his behavior and moved to disbar him. In late August, the already disgraced ex-prosecutor was convicted of criminal contempt for knowingly making false statements during the case and ordered to spend a single day in jail. In September, President Richard Brodhead, speaking at a Law School conference apologized to the 2005-2006 lacrosse players and their families for the University's lack of support "in this time of extraordinary peril."

Since then, the lacrosse scandal has spawned a campus culture report, numerous lawsuits (Kyle Dowd v. the University; former head coach Mike Pressler v. the University--despite an earlier settlement; the three indicted players v. the City of Durham; the 38 unindicted players v. the University and the city of Durham), several books (Until Proven Innocent, The Last Dance from Grace: The Crystal Mangum Story--reviewed here, It's Not About the Truth), even talks of a HBO movie. And several lessons learned about the imperfect nature of the justice system.

The lacrosse case is Number 2 on our stories of the decade list. These are the issues and events that made headlines for weeks at a time over the last ten years, those that sparked the most debate on campus and beyond, and the ones that we believe will continue to shape our coverage in the years to come.


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