With the Duke lacrosse investigation in its final weeks, Linda Fairstein, the former head of the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit and one of the nation's leading experts on sex crimes, told ABC News that she would be shocked if the case went forward.
Having investigated and prosecuted thousands of rape cases, Fairstein has a special ability to evaluate the strength of the case. A pioneer in the field and an advocate of victims' rights, Fairstein points to serious flaws in the investigation and in the evidence that has surfaced to date.
"If a prosecutor were to take this to court, given all the changes in the accuser's story, I don't think there is a crime for which these young men could be convicted," said Fairstein.
Once the investigation concludes, the North Carolina Attorney General's office is expected to announce whether it will take the case to trial or drop charges currently pending against three indicted lacrosse players, David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. Rape charges against the three men were dropped in December, but they still stand accused of kidnapping and sexual offense.
In the accuser's retelling of the incident, recorded by investigators and hospital personnel in the weeks after the party, she revised substantive details of the alleged incident, including the number of assailants and what they did during the attack.
Given her 30 years as a prosecutor, Fairstein finds it unusual for an accuser's story to change as much as far into the process as it did in this case.
Some changes in a victim's story are not uncommon "within a day or two of the attack," said Fairstein. "Six to eight months later is not when the story begins to shake out. It's in the days that follow."
As of March 16, she had not yet told that story to special prosecutors investigating the case. Law enforcement sources told ABC News that in at least two initial meetings with those officials, the accuser was not forthcoming and hesitated to answer investigators' questions.
Multiple sources close to the investigation confirmed that she was reluctant to answer questions in those interviews, though further meetings were scheduled in which she might become more forthcoming. The attorney general's office said in a statement that she had in fact been "cooperative" in their discussions.
Fairstein believes her reticence was another sign of a weak case.
"Her reluctance at this stage isn't a sign that she's not sure what happened -- it's a red flag that there are things wrong with the story."
For Fairstein, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong's biggest mistake in his handling of the case was a lack of tough questions — and a lack of effort to ask them. Nifong's first known meeting with the accuser was at least nine months after her initial accusations.
"There's no excuse for the way this prosecution has proceeded," she said.
"The shocking aspect of that to me is that Nifong only met with her once or twice. He himself had not done a sit down interview once he learned that the initial allegations seemed to be inconsistent."
Fairstein said a prosecutor should take the accuser's story seriously but view it with a critical eye.