No DNA Match in Duke Gang Rape Case

My interest in Duke Lacrosse, like that of most sports fans, generally ranks somewhere between my interest in preseason minor league soccer and curling. Even when it was alleged that they gang raped a 27-year-old stripper slash college student, they were on the periphery of my consciousness. Now, that story is getting interesting.

DNA testing failed to connect any members of the Duke University lacrosse team to the alleged rape of a stripper, attorneys for the athletes said Monday. Citing DNA test results delivered by the state crime lab to police and prosecutors a few hours earlier, the attorneys said the test results prove their clients did not sexually assault and beat a stripper hired to perform at a March 13 team party. [. . . ] “There is no DNA evidence that shows she was touched by any of these boys,” said Attorney Joe Cheshire, who represents one of the team’s captains.

The alleged victim, a 27-year-old student at a nearby college, told police she and another woman were hired to dance at the party. The woman told police that three men at the party dragged her into a bathroom, choked her, raped her and sodomized her. The Associated Press does not name alleged victims in sexual assault cases.

The allegations have led to the resignation of coach Mike Pressler, the cancellation of the lacrosse season and the suspension of one player from school. The case also led to days of protests on and off the Duke campus, and some of the players have moved for safety reasons.

Cheshire said the report indicated authorities took DNA samples from all over the alleged victim’s body, including under her fingernails, and from her possessions, such as her cell phone and her clothes. “They swabbed about every place they could possibly swab from her, in which there could be any DNA,” he said.

District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he would have other evidence to make his case should the DNA analysis prove inconclusive or fail to match a member of the team. “I believe a sexual assault took place,” Nifong told The News & Observer of Raleigh on Monday. “I’m not saying it’s over. If that’s what they expect, they will be sadly disappointed.”


Stan Goldman, who teaches criminal law, evidence and criminal procedure at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the DNA results don’t mean that Nifong can’t go forward with the case — but the test results make a successful prosecution much harder. “Isn’t the absence of DNA evidence, given the way the victim has described the crime, in and of itself almost enough to raise a reasonable doubt?” he said. “That’s all the defense has to do.”

LaShawn Barber invokes the Tawana Brawley case, which might indeed be apt. Dallas Cowboys fans may also recall an incident several years back when Michael Irvin and Erik Williams were falsely accused of rape. It certainly happens.

The problem with all these cases is that a woman who alleges she is raped is automatically presumed to be an innocent victim. The AP is not alone in its policy of refusing to publish the names of accusers, yet everyone rushes to print the charges, which irreparably tar the accused. In this case, a man has lost his job, a team has lost their season, and all concerned are permanently scarred. Yet the accuser, who quite probably made the whole thing up, remains unscathed.



Crosspost from OTB Sports

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DaveD says:

    So my question for any lawyer on this site, does the defense have access only to the information that the DNA does not match any of the accused? Or if the defense is sufficiently curious, may they request to know whether the plaintiff has DNA evidence of any sort of recent sexual contact with anyone outside of the group of accused members of the Duke lacrosse team?

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m not a lawyer but the defense is entitled to all information that the prosecutor has at its disposal in a criminal case. That’s at the core of discovery.

  3. Maggie says:

    Another legal question, J.J. – would hair samples be considered DNA evidence?

    Even if a condom was used, wouldn’t one expect some hair samples? Just sitting on a sofa one could pick up something.

  4. James Joyner says:

    You’d think there would at least be skin under the fingernails or some other sign of struggle, yes.

  5. DaveD says:

    Thanks, James

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Filing a false police report, IIRC, is a crime, so if that turns out to be the case, then publish her name and do all her future clients a favor by warning them to avoid her.

    Another legal question, J.J. – would hair samples be considered DNA evidence?

    Even if a condom was used, wouldnâ??t one expect some hair samples? Just sitting on a sofa one could pick up something.

    From my understanding not only did they look for DNA, but also traces of latex (from condoms) and lubricant. The results were, across the board, zip (i.e., not only no match on the DNA, but no evidence of any DNA at all…well other than the woman’s). The D.A. basically has the word of two women, vs. an entire team of men. His case just went from a tough to impossible.

    Plus there is this tid bit of information,

    Over the weekend, two defense attorneys came up with other evidence they say backs up the team’s versions of events: time-stamped photos of the woman arriving at the party, already bruised, and e-mails written in the hours immediately after the time the attack allegedly happened, the contents of which are said to be consistent with a rape not having happened.

    This brings back memories of the McMartin Pre-school fiasco,

    Coleman, speaking to CBS News before the defense said it had the DNA results, said he believes this case has become too public, too soon. “You look at what’s happened with the criminal investigation, for example. You’ve had a prosecutor who’s been out there, basically developing his case in the media.”

    A possibly over zealous prosecuter who certainly appears to be a media whore, a potentiall disturbed accuser, a sudden lack of any DNA evidence, add in the racial aspect of the crime and you have all the ingredient for a complete disaster.

  7. just me says:

    I have a hard time believing a woman could be gang raped and not a single hair, portion of skin under the nails, or drop of DNA can be found on her anywhere.

    This woman’s story seems to be falling apart, and I am not seeing anything that supports her story, and I can maybe buy one rapist leaves nothing behind, but multiple rapists-just not seeing it.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    Well perhaps as part of the rape, the alleged perps forced her to take a shower as well.

  9. Cobra says:

    First of all, given statistics on sexual assault on college campuses, the presence of alcohol and the scenario presented–why is anybody shocked that SOMETHING might have gone awry or gotten out of control?

    Second, why aren’t the possible records or backgrounds of the people who attended this party, including the Lacrosse team being published in media? If this woman was Natalee Hollaway, Chandra Levy, Jessica Smart, IIlmette St. Guien, Chandra Levy, Katelyn Faber et al. we would know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY this woman would’ve come into contact with, but for “SOME REASON” the only thing we know about the Duke Lacrosse team or any other individuals who may have attended this event is Ryan McFadden’s “American Psycho” inspired snuff fantasy email, which is hardly a positive character reference.

    Let’s wait for the court procedings. Let ALL THE FACTS COME OUT.