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Living A Nightmare: Lax players speak out

Bo Carrington wanted to say something, anything. Surrounded on the quad in the middle of Duke's West Campus, the lacrosse player wanted to convince protesters that neither he nor any of his teammates were rapists. But Carrington, a sophomore, couldn't muster a word.

"You know what happened that night!" shouted one member of the crowd. "Why aren't you saying anything?"

They had known who he was right away--that he was one of them, even as he walked across campus without a single piece of Duke lacrosse gear adorning his formidable 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame.

Carrington began to speak up in response but the words eluded him. It was maddening, but he was speechless.

"It's awful because you want people to know the truth, you want people to know what really happened, but they don't want to hear that," Carrington explained more than three months after that day on the quad.

During those weeks in early April, Carrington and his teammates encountered pictures of themselves plastered around campus like WANTED posters. Posters that, in their minds, conveyed a predetermined judgment: guilty.

"If nobody's guilty then you can't tell them who's guilty," the junior continued.

The team issued no public statements in the weeks following DNA testing, except a release drafted by the team's captains that declared their "unequivocal" innocence. As the media and public continued to deliberate, some concluded that the players were standing complicit in their solidarity to protect the guilty parties within their ranks.

"My gut reaction was let's get out, let's tell our side of the story, this is a joke, let's get out there and make sure people know that this is false," Tony McDevitt said.

But the lacrosse player followed the strict advice of lawyers and bit his tongue.

"A lot of people said in the beginning, 'Oh this is like a wall of defense. This team is tight like brothers,'" McDevitt said. "Granted, we are a tight team. I love every one of the guys on my team, but if something like that happened there's no way everyone would be like that. It's wrong in every sense."

Going home again

McDevitt, a stocky, tough-looking senior who exudes confidence and guarded thoughtfulness, knows all too well what it feels like to be one of them--to walk around town, go to the local deli, and have people look at you differently than they did before.

That has been life for the 44 unindicted members of the 2006 men's lacrosse team. The hysteria surrounding a once-smoldering scandal has started to die down, but its embers still periodically spark uncomfortable situations.

Riding in an elevator on his way to an orientation for his internship at a New York-area investment bank, McDevitt heard a fellow intern casually mention the senior played lacrosse for Duke.

"Oh, you're one of those people," a young woman who overheard the conversation said.

McDevitt wanted to explain that her assumptions about him and his teammates were far from the Duke lacrosse program he knew. But a full elevator was not the forum.

Instead, McDevitt shook his head, kept his cool and waited out the 30-second ride shrouded in awkward silence.

"Especially a hot-topic issue like this, people are going to have opinions," he said. "I know it's wrong, I know what they're thinking about us is completely wrong.. It's a shame that the situation has to produce those types of feelings from people. It's understandable, but it's a shame."

Four months have passed, but many of the players have discovered that, even at home, they are never far from the controversy that has changed each and every one of their lives.

"Most of the time I will meet somebody new and I tell them a little bit about my background, get to know what they do," McDevitt said. "That's all been pushed aside. Now I meet somebody, they want to hear what's going on with the lacrosse issue."

Faced with dozens of individuals a week looking for first-hand insight into what exactly the deal is down in Durham, McDevitt said he has never hesitated to answer questions relating to the situation. When a curious intern pokes in and asks about the newest developments in the case, McDevitt takes a deep breath, gathers his thoughts and dives right in.

"I don't want to be quiet about the issue," McDevitt said. "I feel that leads them to be more inclined to think that something suspicious is going on."

Despite the unending carousel of questions, many other players have also embraced an open dialogue about the situation. In turn, the players have received an outpouring of support from their friends, families and colleagues.

Senior John Walsh, also interning at a New York-area investment bank this summer, was reassured his job was secure and the company would do everything to make sure he was comfortable.

"Everyone's been so supportive," Walsh said. "Even seeing teachers going back to [high] school-they try to support you, but it's just so different."

For others, the situation remains tenuous, and not all of the players have felt Walsh's sense of security. One current player declined to be interviewed on the record because he felt that doing so might have negative repercussions on his employment.

David Evans, Trinity '06, one of the three indicted lacrosse team members, had a job offer rescinded from J.P. Morgan, his lawyer, Joe Cheshire, confirmed.

The waiting game

"I'm going to be indicted."

That was the grim conclusion many of the players came to accept the weekend before the first indictments were announced April 18.

With little hint of who would be charged, many team members went home for Easter weekend--days that were a nightmare for the players and their families.

"My mom, her Easter was the worst Easter of her life--the whole day she's sitting there crying, hugging me and stuff," Walsh said.

The players had anticipated that Matt Zash, Dan Flannery and Evans, the seniors who lived at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., would be the three players that District Attorney Mike Nifong would eventually indict on rape charges.

But with no definitive word from the prosecution, there was only speculation, and the players and their families braced themselves for a dreaded phone call.

"[Our lawyers] said, 'Guys, prepare yourselves, prepare your parents, prepare yourselves for the worst-case scenario,'" McDevitt said. "Our lawyers don't know, nobody knows. We're like, 'Who's it going to be?' It was just going to be a shot in the dark."

"Half of you wants it to be you to take the bullet for the team," Carrington said. "The other half wants to stay as far away from it as you can."

Too far from his home in Dallas, Texas to travel that Easter weekend, junior Rob Wellington was one of the few lacrosse players who spent the days before the indictments in Durham.

On Monday, April 17, with the focus of the indictments still completely unknown to all but the players' lawyers, Wellington recalled the relief he felt as he and juniors Jay Jennison and Reade Seligmann, all of whom shared the same lawyer before the first two indictments were handed down, learned that none of the three would be charged.

Or so he thought.

"We were all waiting in a room at our lawyer's office," Wellington said. "And our lawyer came in and said, 'Don't worry, it was none of you guys, it's okay, you can all go now.'"

Wellington and Jennison left, the weight of the looming indictments lifted clear from their shoulders. But the lawyer, Julian Mack, asked Seligmann to hang behind, fulfilling his obligation to attorney-client privilege.

"I thought they were just talking about something random and I had no idea that it was any of us," Wellington said. "The lawyer knew who it was and he got all of us out of the room by saying it was no one and then held Reade after and told him it was him."

Later that night, Wellington finally got in touch with Seligmann and learned that his close friend had indeed been indicted.

Wellington was shocked. After all, he said he had spent the entire night of the March 13 party with Seligmann. "I never left his side," Wellington emphatically said of the events that evening.

As he talked to his friend the night before Seligmann and classmate Collin Finnerty turned themselves in to police, Wellington said Seligmann seemed more angry than upset.

While the two spoke, Seligmann and his father drove around Durham attempting to contact individuals and collect information that could potentially corroborate Seligmann's alibi, Wellington said.

"They just got on the horse right away, getting it ready to go," Wellington said. "He didn't seem that upset. He seemed more kind of like, 'Alright, now it's on.'"

As the three indicted players await a trial date that could be as far off as next April, their teammates have maintained regular contact with them, offering support and reassurance.

Wellington said he talks to Seligmann once or twice a week and he is "hanging in there." Wellington confessed that he has heard Finnerty--who was found guilty of an unrelated misdemeanor assault in Washington, D.C., July 11--has been "taking it pretty hard."

"It's a tough time, they're just laying low," said Walsh, who regularly keeps in touch with Evans.

The investigation

Carrington remained guarded as he sat opposite two investigators who had knocked on the door to his Few Quadrangle dorm room just moments earlier.

Then a sophomore, Carrington said he had nothing to hide and was eager to divulge his open and honest account to the police about the events surrounding the night of March 13. But there was something about the investigators that made Carrington uneasy.

"We're on your side," he recalled one investigator saying. "We're fighting for you guys. Can you tell us what happened that night?"

As the two officers quizzed Carrington, a polite, soft-spoken Virginian with a slow drawl, the sophomore began to realize why his lawyer had warned him to be careful when speaking to the police.

"They try to be your friend at first and then you realize that they're trying to get you to say something about the case that is not true," Carrington said. "There were absolutely some law enforcement that we felt were deceitful."

"If you're innocent, then the justice system should be your friend, and I don't know, I don't really feel like that's been the case."

The players encountered a similar situation after head coach Mike Pressler instructed the team to go to the Durham police station for DNA testing after practice March 23. Eager for the truth to come out, McDevitt hoped an end to the situation was in sight before things escalated further.

What had started as a March 20 article in The Chronicle, which broke the story, that reported a rape at a house just off East Campus exploded into a full-blown media circus within a week.

Public interest in the developing situation was fueled by Nifong's comments on shows such as MSNBC's "The Abrams Report," where Nifong said he was "positive a rape has occurred." As the media descended upon Duke, reporters swarmed lacrosse practices--filming, snapping pictures and, all the while, speculating.

The team was still practicing, but the players didn't know what they were practicing for. Their season, their program, their futures and their fates were all entirely up in the air.

"I'm saying to myself, 'Fine, take it, I don't care, I know I did nothing wrong, go ahead, take my DNA,'" McDevitt said. "And there were 46 other guys saying the same thing as me."

Upon arriving at the police station, the players said they were greeted by friendly officers who treated the situation routinely and assured them that everything would blow over.

"They were treating it to make it seem like it was nothing," Walsh said. "I think they sort of knew that it was a bigger deal than we did."

Nowhere is the players' frustration about the situation more evident than in their comments concerning Nifong and his motivations for prosecuting the case.

Many have wondered why Nifong continues to pursue a trial as mounting exculpatory evidence, released by defense attorneys, continues to suggest that a rape did not occur at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. on the night of March 13.

"That is the $64,000 question," McDevitt said. "I have a sister two years younger than me, and I know that if I heard something like this supposedly had happened to her, I would want someone to pursue the case as far as they could. Now I'm also level-headed in that if I see all this evidence that goes against what one person is saying has happened, as a district attorney-not as a brother, not as a dad, as a district attorney, someone who has to seek out the truth--I would have to take a step back and say, 'What am I doing?'

"I can only hope that he is still playing that role, seeking out the truth."

Not every player was as reserved as McDevitt, and Walsh alleged Nifong could have other motivations.

"He started something to get re-elected, and now he's got it, but he's made the biggest mistake in the world," Walsh said. "He buried himself in a hole, you know. What's he going to turn on it now when he publicly stated that 'I know there was a rape in this house?' What can he do? He's got nothing, absolutely nothing."

Nifong, who granted a litany of interviews early on, has not granted interviews since the indictments were handed down, citing ethical restraints. He was unavailable for comment for this story.

Though they declined to discuss specific events surrounding the case and the March 13 party, the players continued to express their steadfast belief that, if the case does go to trial, the indicted players' innocence will surface.

"I think half of us want it to get dropped tonight or today," Carrington said. "But at the same time, we want everything to be right out on the table and we want people to know what really happened. Half of you wants it to go to trial so that all of the facts do get shown, but at the same time, those guys are having such a hard time right now that you want it to get dropped as soon as possible."

Both sides of the spectrum

"This is a social disaster."

That was the tagline of a paid advertisement signed by 88 members of the Duke faculty that appeared in the April 6 issue of The Chronicle.

"I think that all of us kind of checked over our teachers to make sure they weren't on that list," Carrington said.

Though none of his four spring instructors had signed the advertisement, Carrington still spent hours in contact with his teachers--explaining the situation, feeling out where they stood, asking for help and guidance along the way, begging that they not jump to conclusions and judge him based on what was being said in the media.

Carrington was fortunate. His professors were flexible, supportive and helped him coordinate his work around meetings with attorneys and situations when the team left campus due to safety concerns.

Walsh, however, saw the other side of the spectrum.

After missing an assignment for a class while meeting his lawyers in Maryland, Walsh received a poor grade on the makeup project he had been assigned, and he paid a visit to the teacher to discuss it.

Once in the teacher's office, Walsh said his professor lashed out about how his team "wasn't right" and that sophomore Ryan McFadyen was "sick in the mind" for sending an e-mail she believed to be entirely inexplicable, in which the sophomore joked about killing and skinning strippers.

Upset with the teacher's inability to empathize with his personal situation, Walsh recalled that he said, "Well, I'd just hoped you'd have some sympathy, it's not the easiest time in the world right now."

"Yeah, well if you guys really were innocent, I would feel sorry for you," he remembered the teacher telling him.

"I couldn't look the teacher in the eyes again," Walsh said. "I never want to see her again."

John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said, "We did hear rumors early on, reports early on, that some faculty members were permitting a potentially hostile situation within a classroom environment."

Duke took steps to make sure all involved--lacrosse players, athletes and women and minority groups--were being treated fairly. Robert Thompson, dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, sent an e-mail to certain faculty members April 3 urging caution in the face of a "traumatic" situation on campus.

Still, the hardest thing for Walsh to grasp was hearing stories from his friends about situations similar to his involving teachers that "threw us in the guilt boat right away."

"They didn't even give us a chance," Walsh said. "They just couldn't see the perspective from our side."

Walsh was left with a similarly sour taste for the administration's wait-and-see handling of the situation.

"Right off the bat it just seemed like it was guilty until proven innocent other than the other way around," Walsh said. "They sort of left us out to dry."

In the days and weeks following March 13, when tensions were at their peak on the Duke campus, President Richard Brodhead suspended and eventually cancelled the lacrosse team's season April 5.

"This University has cooperated and will continue to cooperate to the fullest to speed the ongoing investigation by the police, and I pledge that Duke will respond with appropriate seriousness when the truth is established," Brodhead wrote in a letter to the Duke community that day.

Many have criticized Brodhead and the administration for their handling of the situation. Some say the school should have been more supportive of its students throughout the ongoing investigation. Others feel Brodhead did his best, finding himself in a complete Catch-22 during the weeks following March 13 with no favorable way for the administration to handle the situation.

Even after all that he has gone through over the course of the past five months--after the cancellation of his season, the resignation of his beloved head coach, the stifling scrutiny and the questions that never stop coming--McDevitt has remained one of those people.

"I think some things could have been done better, some things they did were just fine. I don't think I'm in a position to criticize what they did," the senior said. "There is no sort of manual for a situation like this. I'm sure for many people involved it's their first time dealing with a crisis situation, and hindsight's 20/20."

Going forward

They only had each other.

Throughout all of it--throughout the DNA testing and the impending indictments; throughout the period when teachers, students and protesters were assuming the worst; throughout the accusations on every TV news channel; throughout the emotional resignation of their head coach, in which Pressler, and every member of the team, broke down and wept--only they truly knew what it was like to be one of them throughout all of it, no one else.

They were the only ones who really know what happened the night of March 13, and they only had each other.

If there are any certainties for the Duke lacrosse players, it's the conviction that each and every one has 46 brothers for life.

"We've been through the fire," Carrington said. "There isn't much that's going to top this. There's not much that's going to tear us apart now."

So as the members of the Duke men's lacrosse team look forward to the next year and the next season, they realize things will be different. But no matter what challenges or obstacles they face, they will experience whatever lies ahead together.

"We have one goal next year, one goal only, and that's to win a national championship," McDevitt said. "Anything that could get in the way of that goal needs to be flushed down the toilet."

If reaching that goal requires sacrificing other extracurricular activities and increasing vigilance toward curbing what some have dubbed "Animal House"-type behavior on the part of the team, then so be it.

"If there's one thing that could maybe bring us back as far as people respecting us, bringing Duke's name, Duke lacrosse back to where it was, stepping in that direction, it would be to win next year and to get us in the public eye and to show how much we've worked," McDevitt said.

"Things will change, absolutely. I think that things will change not just for us but for everyone else at Duke. We'll see."

Greg Beaton and Ryan McCartney contributed to this story.


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