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Duke lacrosse team accused of gang rape

Protests rock Duke University as police investigate alleged lacrosse team sex assault scandal.  Dan Abrams talks with a local reporter, a local district attorney, former prosecutor Susan Filan and defense attorney Michelle Suskauer.

A student working as a stripper to pay her way through college says members of the Duke University lacrosse team gang raped her at a team party. 

Authorities have taken DNA samples from 46 of the 47 members of the lacrosse team in an attempt to find the three players an exotic dancer said beat and raped her at a party where she was hired to perform on March 13. 

According to court documents reviewed by the "News and Observer," a local paper,

“When the woman and another dancer began their routines, one of the men watching held up a broomstick and threatened to sexually assault the women.  They left, but were followed out by a man who persuaded them to return.  That’s when three men pushed her into a bathroom and began the assault, which she said lasted for 30 minutes." 

Samiha Khanna from the “News and Observer” down there who interviewed the alleged victim in this case.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, "ABRAMS REPORT": All right, so what did she tell you?

SAMIHA KHANNA, REPORTER, “NEWS AND OBSERVER”: Well first, she sort of wondered how I had found her, and I assured her that her identity was not revealed in the newspaper and it was not going to be revealed, as we don’t publish the names of sexual assault victims.  The first thing she told me was she reported it because she feels as though generally speaking, people don’t really take this type of assault seriously. 

And she has a young daughter; she also was concerned for her family.  Knowing that this had happened to her she couldn’t live with that.  She wanted to report it and sort of get the allegations out there of what had happened.

ABRAMS:  What did she say happened exactly? 

KHANNA:  Basically, we just sort of went over the same details that the police had offered.  She was a little hesitant to discuss everything in detail.  Naturally, she was still in shock and still very tearful, and also her children were present.  She was watching them, so it was a little bit difficult to talk about the details, but she did say that she had been called to this location for a job.  As the “News and Observer” has previously published, she believed that this event would be a small party, perhaps a bachelor party, with no more than maybe five men. 

When she arrived with one more person from the agency she realized that the crowd, in fact, was over 40 men in this house next to east campus.  She worried about the fact that there was no security, and a neighbor that I interviewed actually says that he saw the women outside.  The victim was hesitant.  She didn’t want to go inside.  She said I had never done this before and the other woman he describes sort of comforted her.  She went in and she says that immediately there were comments being made, derogatory comments to her as a woman and also based on the fact that of her race.  She is black and she says that her accusers are white.

ABRAMS:  Now, how does she know that the alleged perpetrators were members of the lacrosse team? 

KHANNA:  I didn’t actually get the chance to ask her that in detail how she was able to verify that.  But the police have actually been able to verify that this was a party held for or attended by most of the members of the team.  I’m not sure exactly if all attended, but most of the people there were members of the team.  The three people who actually live in the house are three team captains we’re being told by Duke officials.  So that’s how they are able to corroborate that information.  I’m not sure that she was aware at the time that they were members of the lacrosse team. 

ABRAMS:  And all she claims that she knew was that she was going with a colleague I guess you’d call them, to dance at a party? 

KHANNA:  That’s what she’s told me.  She got the call about 8:30 that night; she was to show up at about 11:30.  The first time that she had ever met that co-worker she says was at that location. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Samiha Khanna thank you very much. 

KHANNA:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Mike Nifong's office is handling this case. Now I know that you have not been able to hear what we’ve been talking about up to now?  But the one question that we were talking about is how can you be so certain at this point that the perpetrators were actually members of the Duke lacrosse team? 

MIKE NIFONG, DURHAM DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  Well, the information that we have received from the people who were at the house was that all of the people at the party were Duke lacrosse players with the possible exception of two fraternity people who were there at some point that evening with another member of the Duke lacrosse team.  Obviously, we are awaiting DNA results from tests that have been done so far.  We expect those next week, and depending on the results of that, it may be necessary to extend the scope of the search, but we at least have an idea of the direction which that would go.

ABRAMS:  I assume based on the fact that you requested DNA from 46 of the 47 members of the team that there is DNA evidence that was found that’s relevant to the case. 

NIFONG:  We hope that there will be DNA evidence that will be relevant to the case.  We cannot know that for certain until all of the evidence has been tested.

ABRAMS:  Did all of the players who you requested DNA from, and my understanding is it was from 46 of the 47, all of the white players on the team because the alleged victim said that the perpetrators were white, did all of them agree to give their DNA?

NIFONG:  They all submitted pursuant to the identification order of the sampling that was requested.

ABRAMS:  So it was requested or did you demand it? 

NIFONG:  There was a court order that is called an identification order, and it set out the reasoning behind the request, and specified what the subjects would be requested to do. 

NIFONG:  Their failing to do so could result in a court taking action against them, but there was no failure to do so.

ABRAMS:  Are you convinced there was a rape here?

NIFONG:  I am convinced that there was a rape, yes, sir. 

ABRAMS:  And why are you so convinced of that? 

NIFONG:  The circumstances of the case are not suggestive of the alternate explanation that has been suggested by some of the members of the situation.  There is evidence of trauma in the victim’s vaginal area that was noted when she was examined by a nurse at the hospital.  And her general demeanor was suggestive of the fact that she had been through a traumatic situation. 

ABRAMS:  When you say an alternate explanation that’s being offered by some of the people who were there, what is that?

NIFONG:  Well, I don’t want to go into a lot of the details of the evidence right now, but obviously, the story that these people were hired to dance and were asked to leave is the alternate story. 

ABRAMS:  So that there was no sexual activity at all is the alternate story? 

NIFONG:  That would be the alternate story. 

ABRAMS:  Final question.  Do you intend to pursue charges against players, people who were there at the house, but did nothing to stop it, if a rape occurred?

NIFONG:  Well, I have not made that decision yet.  It will really depend on evidence.  I don’t suspect that everybody who was in the house necessarily had the same view of what was going on, and so I can’t really say that right now.  As a general rule, mere presence at the scene of a crime does not constitute evidence of participation in that crime. 

There is, however, an exception under aiding and abetting law for people who because of a particular relationship that exists in this case being teammates of the people who were perpetrating the crime, their presence at the scene could be seen as encouraging or condoning the activity, and under those circumstances, it is possible that some other people could be indicted.

ABRAMS:  Have you been satisfied with Duke University’s response?

NIFONG:  I’m not sure to what you are referring to when you say Duke University’s response.  They obviously are dealing with administrative issues that do not directly involve the criminal charges here.  Certainly Duke has not done anything to interfere with the investigation.  And I really don’t have an opinion about such things as canceling the lacrosse season, as some people have suggested.

ABRAMS:  Mike Nifong thanks a lot for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

NIFONG:  Yes, sir.  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Michelle, these are very serious allegations here and this student is coming forward, and it sounds like the D.A. is pretty convinced that a rape occurred.  What do you make of the strategy here to ask all of the players, at least all of the white players on the team, for their DNA?

MICHELLE SUSKAUER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well they are asking all of the white players obviously, and I don’t think they were asking.  I think they were sort of telling, given the fact that they had issued something that they had to cooperate with or else maybe they would have been held in contempt, but they’re asking all the white players.  The one lone black player she didn’t identify said that there were three white players that had raped her.  Certainly I think DNA is very important because the victim may not be able to identify by face when she looked at the photographs anyone out of a photo lineup, so I think that really is significant.

ABRAMS:  Susan, if you were the prosecutor here based on the law that D.A. Nifong was just laying out, would you be considering pursuing charges against other people who were present at the house, but who didn’t engage in the alleged rape? 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:   Absolutely.  Under the theory that he explained, this aiding and abetting theory.  He’s not saying just by being there and not doing anything to stop it you’re in trouble.  But if you’re in that room and you don’t take any action to stop it and you’re in the bathroom where the assault is taking place, that can clearly be seen as encouragement, as condoning and as aiding and abetting. 

And if you’re in that bathroom where those guys are allegedly gang raping that victim, you’re in as much trouble under a different theory as the guys who did it themselves.  The other thing is there seems to be a lot of physical evidence that the prosecutor can use here.  She lost four false fingernails, four red fingernails and those were found at the scene. 

She also said that she put up a fight and scraped the heck out of one of her assailants, so it’ll be interesting to see if somebody has got some marks on their skin.  She also left behind a cell phone and a purse in that bathroom.  If there’s going to be a claim that it was consensual, that’s inconsistent with consensual.  That is much more consistent with a forcible rape. 

ABRAMS:  Do you agree, Michelle? 

SUSKAUER:  Well yes, I think obviously if she has fingernails that are there and leaving property behind, but I think what is significant is they may be coming up with not with consent, but that she actually was paid not only to dance, but to provide sex as well. 

ABRAMS:  But it sounds like the D.A. was saying that what he’s hearing is that some of them were claiming that she danced and she left. 

SUSKAUER:  It didn’t happen at all.  Yes, I know.  That’s not the defense that they are saying, but I think that another reason why they may not prosecute the other folks, the other players in the room is that because they may actually need them, because it’s a much more serious crime, obviously the forcible rape or the detention.

ABRAMS:  Susan, real quick, 15 of the 46 players, this surprised me, who gave DNA had prior charges, most of them very minor charges, public intoxication and things like that.

FILAN:  And public urination. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, exactly.  Relevant to the case?

FILAN:  You know I mean I think at that level college kids will be college kids, boys will be boys.  I don’t think that’s where this becomes serious, but once it elevates to this level, and also, Dan, there’s a witness that corroborates her story that she came outside and then she went back inside.  That’s how she tells the story.

And don’t forget there’s also racial slurs.  I don’t even want to repeat on the air what was allegedly said to this poor woman.  But that adds a whole other level to forcible rape, strangulation, sexual assault and now racial slurs? This just gets uglier and worse.

ABRAMS:  Yes. This is a dark day for my university, which I love very much, and, you know, sorry to have to cover a story like this, but I can’t let my personal affiliations prevent us from covering what is an important story down at Duke University.