April 20, 2006 -- Cab driver Moezeldin Almostafa only had two fares the night of March 13, and both of them could be central to the Duke lacrosse case.
New information he provided ABC news has expanded his role in the rape investigation from the element of an alibi to an eyewitness of what took place outside 610 North Buchanan Blvd.
"It's hard to commit a crime if you don't have the time to do it" may be the argument defense attorneys bring to the table to keep Reade Seligmann, one of the Duke lacrosse players indicted for allegedly raping and kidnapping a 27-year-old woman working as an exotic dancer at an off-campus party, out of prison.
Sources close to the defense say the window of time between the end of the alleged victim's dance and Seligmann's departure on the night of the party is too narrow for him for him to have committed the crime.
A third-party witness who saw Seligmann leave the party is the man who took him away from it: taxi driver Moezeldin Almostafa. In his first interview about the incident, Almostafa described the night in question and the time he spent with the indicted lacrosse player to ABC News Senior Legal Correspondent Chris Cuomo.
Almostafa recalled Seligmann's call requesting a pickup on the corner of Watts and Urban streets.
"I remember that I got a phone call past midnight around 12:14," he told Cuomo and the ABC News Law and Justice Unit. "I got the call. I went to meet him."
Almostafa's Sprint cell phone bill, which was reviewed by ABC News, shows an incoming call from Seligmann's phone number at 12:14 a.m. He said he remembered what the men looked like when he picked them up, describing their attire as T-shirts and shorts and referring to the 6-foot-1-inch, 215 pound Seligmann as "a tall, big guy."
When they got in the car, he said, the men asked him to go to a nearby Wachovia ATM and then to a drive-thru restaurant on Hillsborough Road. After that, he said, they went to the Edens dorm on West Campus, where university records seen by ABC News show Seligmann's swipe card being used to enter the building at 12:46 a.m. Almostafa told Cuomo that he watched them enter the gate.
Almostafa also remembered one critical detail -- after Seligmann's call at 12:14, he said, it took approximately four minutes to travel from his cab stand to the place where he would pick them up. When Almostafa arrived, he said, Seligmann and a friend, a fellow lacrosse player but not co-defendant Collin Finnerty, were waiting for him on a street corner roughly a block and a half from the house where the party was taking place.
If Almostafa's testimony is true, it suggests that Seligmann would have left the party on North Buchanan Boulevard at 12:18 a.m. or earlier. According to a defense timeline, a series of digitally time-stamped photographs of the party seen by ABC News show the alleged victim, a student at North Carolina Central University, dancing and talking in the living room until at least 12:03:57.
Nothing Apparently Suspicious About Behavior
Almostafa said that he didn't pay close attention to Seligmann and his friend during their roughly 20-minute ride in his taxi. He said he only noticed the details of his passengers if "I have a sense if there's some problem."
However, he took away a series of impressions. Almostafa said Seligmann was not nervous, drunk, or out of sorts.
"They were just joking and laughing in inside my car, and everything [was] just fine," he said, of the men's demeanor.
Almostafa said he didn't notice anything unusual or suspicious about Seligmann or the friend who rode with him in the cab. When asked whether he had seen any sign of wrongdoing or any indication that they had been in a struggle, his answer was an immediate "no."
After he dropped off Seligmann, he went back for a second pick up of Duke lacrosse players from the party house. When he arrived, he noticed "a lot of people outside" -- a group of students standing around and a woman walking out of the house, across the driveway and into her car. The woman -- presumably the other dancer who did not accuse the men of rape -- was arguing with the students outside.
There was yelling, the cab driver said, but he said, "I didn't hear any racial [comments], I didn't see any blood, I didn't see any scratch." He also said he didn't hear anything about a rape or assault.
Compared to Reade, the four students he picked up for the second ride "looked like more drunk." Their ride was also much shorter -- Almostafa said only two minutes from the site of the party to a BP gas station at Main Street and Ninth.
Almostafa said he was misquoted in news reports earlier Thursday, which reported him as saying it looked like someone had gotten hurt.
He also said that three days ago Seligmann's father showed up in the cab company's parking saying "we want to see this cab driver, we want to talk to him ... it is really serious." Seligmann was with him.
"We want him to tell us what happened [that night]," Almostafa recalled the student's father, Philip Seligmann, as saying.
Almostafa said he recognized Seligmann but asked him questions to verify that he was the passenger from March 13. "I asked some question what time he picked up ...I even asked him about the amount [of] food. Everything matched my records."
Assuming Almostafa's credibility as a witness holds up, he could be a central witness to the defense. However, the defense would still need to prove that during the time both he and the alleged victim were at the party, he did nothing to justify the charges he's facing, which are set out in a sworn affidavit by the accuser: first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense, and first degree kidnapping. The kidnapping charge stems from the alleged victim's testimony that she was held against her will and a North Carolina statute that defines kidnapping as "doing serious bodily harm to … the person so confined."
Credibility of Third-Party Witness Could Be Critical
Details of the prosecutor's case, as well as the results of crucial toxicology and DNA evidence are not yet known. ABC News called prosecutor Mike Nifong's office numerous times for comment on the cabdriver's testimony, but our messages were not returned. The victim has identified Seligmann with 100 percent certainty in a photo lineup, according to prosecutors.
Of all the particular rides and passengers he has seen since the night of March 13, why does Almostafa think he remembers Seligmann?
"It was a long trip," he said.
Unlike many callers, these passengers were waiting for Almostafa outside on the street instead of making him wait in front of the house. Perhaps also memorably, Almostafa said that he had received a "nice tip" -- $25 for a roughly $17 fare.