Exclusive: Duke Lacrosse Grand Jurors Speak Out

ByCHRIS CUOMO and LARA SETRAKIAN, Law & Justice Unit via logo

Feb. 6, 2007 — -- In the spring, a grand jury in Durham, N.C., indicted three Duke University lacrosse players on charges of rape, sexual offense and kidnapping of an exotic dancer.

Now, for the first time, members of that grand jury have broken their silence.

In an exclusive interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," two grand jurors described how they felt about the twists and turns that had rocked the case in the more than 10 months since a fateful lacrosse team party in March 2006.

Fearing reprisals, the two grand jury members chose to remain anonymous, asking that their faces not be shown and their names be withheld, given the controversial and high-profile nature of the case.

Because they are legally constrained from discussing details of what happened in the grand jury room, they discussed only what had happened since the indictments.

When asked whether he would have made the same decision today to indict lacrosse players Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans, the first grand juror said he had second thoughts.

"Knowing what I know now and all that's been broadcast on the news and in media, I think I would have definitely … made a different decision," he said to ABC News.

"I don't think I could have made a decision to go forward with the charges that were put before us. I don't think those charges would have been the proper charges, based on what I know now," he said.

In contrast, the second grand juror said he did not regret the decision to indict, but he said that he now had new doubts based on what he had learned as the case had unfolded.

"I don't know for sure whether she was raped, you know, because of everything that … came out," he said. "I'm not sure, to tell you the truth."

Ultimately, the district attorney could not be sure either. In December, eight months after the grand jurors brought their indictments, prosecutor Mike Nifong dropped rape charges against the players when the accuser said she could not recall key details of the crime.

The grand jurors who spoke to ABC News described being surprised and baffled by that development.

"What do you mean you're not sure whether you got raped or not? That … didn't add up," said the second grand juror.

"It raised a lot of doubt," the first said.

"The next thing I was wondering is, 'OK. … If you're dropping the rape charges, why are you even going to try to go forward with charges of assault and kidnapping? If no rape occurred, why, why go ahead and try to. … Prosecute on the other charges?'"

Because they are legally constrained from discussing details of the evidence or events that took place inside the grand jury courtroom, the jurors could only talk about what had happened in the time since the indictments.

Certain facts about the Duke lacrosse grand jury have been made public, however.

According to court documents, the only witnesses to testify and present evidence to the jury were Sgt. Mark Gottlieb and investigator Benjamin Himan, both with the Durham Police Department.

The grand jury heard dozens of other cases during the two days that it met to consider the Duke lacrosse case. The jury needed at least 12 out of 18 votes in order to return a "true bill" -- a decision to indict.

Seligmann and Finnerty were indicted on April 17. Evans was indicted on May 15, one day after his graduation from Duke University.

Battling charges of ethical misconduct, Nifong recused himself after the North Carolina State Bar opened an investigation into his handling of the case.

What did the grand jurors make of his decision?

"I thought it was the correct thing to do," the first grand juror said. "I don't think he's a bad person. He just maybe made a bad decision."

That sympathy extended to those on all sides of the case.

"A lot of people will be affected by this. If they are found not guilty, and we do [find] out that no assault or kidnapping happened … then you have a lot of lives that were directly affected," the first grand juror said. "You can't go back and undo any of this."

The second expressed particular concern for the accuser, and was particularly worried that her name had been besmirched since the case began.

While her identity has not been revealed in the mainstream media, personal details about her have been circulated on the Internet.

"I think, if anything, the alleged victim. … Her life is ruined," he said.

Both grand jury members emphasized that they felt they did the right thing based on what they knew at the time. By design, grand juries only hear evidence from the prosecution, and the standard for indicting anyone is low.

They also emphasized their position as grand jurors: The grand jury's decision was just a first step, and it is up to the trial process to determine whether a crime actually occurred.

That task now rests with special prosecutors with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, who are now weighing whether to proceed on the remaining sexual assault and kidnapping charges.

The Duke lacrosse case is back in court on May 7. Nifong's trial on ethics charges by the North Carolina State Bar is scheduled for June.

Rony Camille in Durham contributed to this article.

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