Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US student athletes' kidnap and assault charges are dropped

AGENCIES , RALEIGH,NORTH CAROLINA

Three student athletes accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a black stripper at a Duke University lacrosse team party were cleared of all remaining criminal charges on Wednesday, authorities said.

Prosecutors earlier dropped rape charges against the men, all of whom are white, after their accuser told investigators she was uncertain about crucial details of the alleged assault.

The three white Duke lacrosse players were accused of sexually assaulting a black stripper at a party. They were indicted last spring on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense after the woman told police she was assaulted in the bathroom at an off-campus house during a team party where she had been hired to perform.

Closing the book on the case, which drew national attention, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said he was dropping outstanding charges of kidnapping and sexual assault against the men due to insufficient evidence.

"We have no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night," Cooper told a news conference in Raleigh, the state capital.

Some US media had portrayed the case as a symbol of racial and class tensions in the US South and the town where Duke, a top-ranked private university founded in 1838, is located.

But it unraveled quickly after laboratory tests found no trace of the defendants' DNA on the accuser and amid charges the original prosecutor, Michael Nifong, had played up the case because he was seeking re-election.

The three players, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, held a news conference later in the day at which they expressed relief the case had been dropped.

Seligmann said the players' ordeal showed US society had lost sight of one of the nation's most fundamental legal principles, the presumption of innocence, and had exposed flaws in the US justice system.

"If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can't image what they would do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves," he said.

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