By Mitch Casper and Spencer Rees
On March 13, 2006, the lacrosse world changed forever. At Duke University, members of the lacrosse team were involved in a scandal of “fantastic lies” that ruined reputations and changed lives.
In an off-campus party during spring break, the lacrosse team decided to hire two exotic dancers. What the team didn’t know was that they would be put under a microscope for the next 13 months.
Crystal Mangum, one of the exotic dancers, accused three members of the Duke lacrosse team of sexually abusing her during this party. Policemen showed up, media was constantly around the house, and members of the community were visibly upset at the fact that none of the members of the team were speaking out.
Because of this incident, the lacrosse culture was significantly hurt.
“Our [the lacrosse community’s] whole image was destructed and tampered with,” varsity lacrosse coach Brian Farrell said. “We were perceived as a privileged sport that only white, rich males took part in. It was a blow to the sport and still has an effect 10 years later.”
The three members of the Duke lacrosse team that were accused were Collin Finnerty, David Evans, and Reade Seligmann. These three teammates would spend the next 13 months in court desperately trying to save their reputation.
Mike Nifong, Mangum’s lawyer, took the case by the horns. He made false claims and tampered with DNA evidence.
Nifong and Mark Gottlieb, a Durham detective, spent those 13 months trying to frame the three members. Gottlieb was even accused of changing the descriptions of the three members to fit the three that Mangum picked, according to ESPN’s 30 for 30 about the event.
It was even hard for the lawyers of the three men to believe they were innocent.
“Most people accused of crimes are guilty,” attorney Brad Bannon said in his interview with ESPN. “I had absolutely no problem believing that rich, white, elite young men would take advantage of a young African-American woman that they had hired to come and perform for them.”
However, thanks to a riveting speech by senior David Evans, people started to believe the members were innocent. People started to really look into the facts rather than just judge them based off of what they were hearing. Soon enough, it became clear that there was no way for the three members to have sexually assaulted Mangum.
With great lawyers behind them, the case was eventually dropped 395 days after the incident. The lawyers proved that there was no way that the three men were ever with the accuser for more than ten minutes based on phone calls, ATM video surveillance, and keypad entry into Duke’s dorm building. Also, the DNA testing proved that the men never had contact with her, according to ESPN’s 30 for 30 about the event.
Magnum’s lawyer, Mike Nifong, was disbarred from the North Carolina Bar Association for his aggressive and incorrect measures he took with the case. Gottlieb was moved out of his district and committed suicide in 2014.
As for the three men accused, they live their lives today as three working citizens. Finnerty is an equity banker at Deutsche Bank; Evans is a venture capitalist at Apax Partners; Seligmann is a Commercial Litigator at Connell Foley. All three are a part of the Innocence Project which helps wrongfully accused people find the resources and lawyers to prove their innocence.
David Evans said, “No matter what, you can try to move on, but ‘rape’ will always be associated with my name. ‘Innocent’ might be a part of that, but when I die they’ll say, ‘One of the three Duke lacrosse rape suspects died today. He led a life and did this, but he was one of the three Duke lacrosse rape suspects,” according to Evie Salomon of CBS News.
This event was a tragic one for the case of the accused families. Thankfully, the judge looked at the facts rather than satisfying the media and taking the easy way out. This case is a perfect example of innocent until proven guilty, and thankfully, the lawyers were able to prove the three Duke lacrosse players’ innocence.