Top Lawyers Say Duke Case Is Weak

ABC News Gathers Views From Legal Experts on Duke Lacrosse Rape Case

March 21, 2007 —

ABC News spoke to some of the nation's leading criminal defense attorneys and former prosecutors about the Duke Lacrosse rape case. They all say it is a weak case and will almost certainly never go to trial. They point to the lack of evidence, the accuser's changing story, and her credibility.

The experts are:

Kent Alexander, former U.S. Attorney

Gerald Beaver, North Carolina trial lawyer and former member of the North Carolina State Bar Counsel

Kendall Coffee, former U.S. Attorney

Mark Edwards, North Carolina defense attorney

Tom Loflin, North Carolina defense attorney

Andrew McBride, former federal prosecutor

Below are their responses to the issues we asked them to address.

Absence of DNA Evidence Implicating the Players

The lack of DNA from the players on the accuser's body and clothing is a "stunning absence in the evidence." (Gerald Beaver)

"If there's physical contact and fluid exchange there should be DNA." (Kent Alexander)

"Most sexual assault cases rely on DNA and a complete absence of DNA evidence to corroborate an alleged victim's testimony creates a big obstacle for prosecutors. Jurors nowadays???expect there to be DNA evidence." They watch CSI and know that even microscopic DNA samples can be obtained from crime scenes. Prosecutors will have a lot of explaining to do. (Kendall Coffee)

"That there are three individuals and none left a fluid trail. And there were fluid trials from other men???.to me it's devastating" to the prosecution's case. (Andrew McBride)

"The evidence just isn't stacking up for the prosecution." (Kent Alexander)

Accuser's Changing Story

"Sure a witness can change her statement. But in 36 years I have not seen a witness change this much???These were not insignificant pieces of information, not like the color of the tiles in the bathroom. She changed hugely important items - the number of people and who did what." (Tom Loflin)

There is a "very unusual lack of consistency in her story." In his experience, "the truth remains constant???it doesn't ebb and flow from day to day." (Gerald Beaver)

The changes in her story would be devastating in court. "Where an entire case rests on the truthfulness of a single accuser, even small detours and backtracking can be fatal to the prosecution's case given the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." (Kendall Coffee)

It's a defense lawyer's dream for the prosecutions witness to change just one fact. When it's five or six or more, that's just a field day for the defense. It means she's a very incredible witness. And given the DNA evidence, she's the whole case. (Tom Loflin)

Accuser's Credibility

"If I were the prosecutor, I would want my complaining witness to take a polygraph test and challenge her about the rape charges. I would try to figure out if she was telling the truth. With the primary witness credibility so tainted, the prosecution has the duty to reevaluate this case. They should ask themselves, 'do I believe that a jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that these individuals were involved in kidnapping and sexual battery.' In evaluating the case, prosecutors would take into account that their lead witness has major credibility problems. It seems that the witness has already lied to prosecutors and the police about the rape." (Andrew McBride)

"Reade Seligmann's alibi is bulletproof. Her mental state is a problem - North Carolina case law is pretty good on cross examining key witnesses on mental problems they may have had in the past. That could become something the jury can consider to factor into her credibility." (Mark Edwards)

"The defense has a lot to work with. Without forensics, the prosecution needs to rely entirely on the witness, and here her credibility has been completely shot." (Andrew McBride)

What Will Happen to This Case?

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"This case is over. There are too many problems with the case." (Mark Edwards)

"I predict the AG will not proceed with the case. It was really a non-starter from the beginning." (Tom Loflin)

Compiled by Lauren Pearle and Lara Setrakian