Ex-Duke Players Seek to Rebuild Reputations

ByABC News via via logo
February 09, 2009, 12:30 PM

April 12, 2007 — -- The dropping of charges might mean fewer legal worries for Dave Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty -- three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape 13 months ago -- but the trio must now work to rebuild their reputations.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that all charges had been dropped.

In the year since the allegations were first made, though, the lives of these players have been dramatically altered.

Evans graduated the day before his indictment, and subsequently lost a Wall Street job offer. Seligmann and Finnerty were sophomores last year, and were suspended from school. They were invited back to Duke when the first set of charges were dropped in December 2006, but the pair chose not to return.

"I think one of the tragedies of this case is there is no way to make these three young men who were accused whole again," New York prosecutor Linda Fairstein told ABC's David Muir. "There will always be the asterisk that 'he was the defendant in the Duke lacrosse case.'"

They have begun to move on. Seligmann was recruited to play lacrosse at Brown, and Finnerty is taking classes at Hofstra while coaching at the high school where he earned his Duke scholarship.

"Collin is helping with the lacrosse program and working with students, serving as a model of moving on," said the Rev. James Williams, Chaminade High School's principal.

But some say moving on scar-free will be nearly impossible for those involved in this case.

"There are other people who know absolutely nothing about them, other than they were defendants in a rape case. Some of whom won't remember what the outcome was … and that will be their history for the rest of their lives," said Duke law professor James Coleman.

Also affected, Duke coach Mike Pressler, who resigned after 16 seasons. He became emotional Wednesday at a news conference as he responded to the dropped charges.

"A lot was taken from us, you know," Pressler said.

While the families will likely explore civil suits, legal experts say no settlement or attorney general will ever be able to fully erase the stigma attached to such an explosive case, even though it collapsed in the end.

According to author Eric Dezenhall, who wrote "Damage Control," the best way to recover is aggressively.

"The best thing to do is to hit back and hit back hard, but then retreat," Dezenhall said. "You have to tell your side, that you've been victimized."

Steven Pagones knows exactly what that's like. Twenty years ago, he was very publicly accused of raping 15-year-old Tawana Brawley.

"Six white men, one named Steven Pagones. I'll repeat it again -- the assistant district attorney of Dutchess County were among those that attacked her," the Rev. Al Sharpton said in 1987 of the accusation.

Pagones was scarred.

"Imagine sitting down with your family on a Sunday afternoon, watching the news and hearing that the lead story, the headline is that this man is accusing you of abducting and raping Tawana Brawley, a person you've never met," he said.

Even though a grand jury determined the whole story was a hoax, Pagones still battled accusations.

Richard Jewell, who in 1996 was a suspect in the Atlanta Olympics bombing, can relate.

"Everywhere I go, I'm stared at. The whispers -- it's amazing how loud a whisper is when you hear your name," Jewell said.

Dezenhall said that kind of harm to your reputation could be long-lasting.

"In this life, you can't unring a bell," he said. "You can't go door to door and tell people to forget everything they have heard."

Jewell was finally honored last year for finding the bomb, not planting it. He is now a sheriff's deputy in Georgia.

In some cases, the falsely accused win big settlements. Jewell settled with at least five companies including CNN and NBC. But 10 years later, he is still fighting a legal battle with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That could go to court this fall.

Pagones -- the man falsely accused in the Brawley case -- left his job as a lawyer and is now a private investigator. He said he liked being able to help people "find the truth."

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