Duke files shed a different light

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

Case notes show good, bad arguments for rape allegations

By Duff Wilson and Jonathan D. Glater
New York Times

August 27, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. -- On March 21, a week after an African-American woman charged that she had been raped by three white Duke University lacrosse players, the police sergeant supervising the investigation met with the sexual-assault nurse who had examined the woman. The sergeant, Mark Gottlieb, reviewed the medical report, which said little: some swelling, no visible bruises.

But Gottlieb's case notes also recount what the nurse told him in response to his questions: that the woman appeared to be in so much pain that it took "an extended period of time" to examine her, and that the "blunt force trauma" seen in the examination "was consistent with the sexual assault that was alleged by the victim."

About a week later, Gottlieb met with Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong to review the case. Nifong had been beseeching Duke lacrosse players to break their silence about what had happened at a team party on March 13. He turned up the pressure, telling Fox News that there was "no doubt in my mind that she was raped."

Whether the woman was in fact raped is the question at the center of a case that has become a national cause celebre. Defense lawyers have portrayed it as a national scandal--that there is only the flimsiest physical evidence of rape, that the accuser is an unstable fabricator, and that Nifong, in the middle of a re-election campaign, was summoning racial ghosts for political gain.

By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to their clients, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are weaknesses in Nifong's case, there is also evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.

Crucial to that portrait of the case are Gottlieb's 33 pages of typed notes and three pages of handwritten notes, which have not previously been revealed. His file was delivered to the defense July 17.

In several important areas, the full files, reviewed by the New York Times, contain evidence stronger than that highlighted by the defense:

- Defense lawyers have argued that the written medical reports do not support the charge of rape. But in addition to the nurse's oral description of injuries consistent with the allegation, Gottlieb writes that the accuser appeared to be in extreme pain when he interviewed her 2 1/2 days after the incident, and that signs of bruises emerged then as well.

- The defense has argued that the accuser, who had been hired to perform as an exotic dancer, gave many divergent versions of what happened, and she did give differing accounts of who did what at the party. But the files show that aside from two brief early conversations with the police, she gave largely consistent accounts of being raped by three men in a bathroom.

- As recounted in one investigator's notes, one of the indicted players does not match the accuser's initial physical descriptions of her attackers: She said all three were chubby or heavyset, but one is tall and skinny. In Gottlieb's version of the same conversation, however, her descriptions closely correspond to the defendants'.

At the same time, the files underscore the major problems with the district attorney's case:

- There is no DNA evidence directly linking the suspects to the accuser.

- One suspect, Reade Seligmann, has what appears to be a powerful alibi, based on a cell phone log and other records that show he left the party early.

- Finally, no one has corroborated the rape charge made by the woman.

Gottlieb's notes are drawing scrutiny from the defense both because they appear to strengthen Nifong's case and because they were turned over only recently--after the defense had made much of the weaknesses in the earlier evidence.

The files cannot settle any arguments about the case but they add rich detail to the narrative of what happened that night.