Duke Lacrosse Case: District Attorney Nifong Breaks His Silence on Prior Rape Allegations

Reading a statement in an impromptu news conference, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong broke his silence, speaking about the Duke lacrosse case for the first time in weeks.

His subject: a 1996 police report that had surfaced Thursday describing allegations of a 1993 gang rape, filed by the accuser in the Duke lacrosse rape investigation.

The police report, obtained by The Associated Press, was filed by the alleged victim when she was 18, and she cited an incident that had taken place when she was 14. The police report lists the alleged crime as "statutory rape." The three men she accused in the report were never arrested or charged.

Police in Creedmoor, N.C., say they have no records showing that the alleged victim pursued the case against the three men, all of whom she knew prior to the alleged attack.

When asked whether the police report would be admissible as evidence in the Duke case, Nifong said, "The jury that decides the case may or may not hear the information reported by The Associated Press."

Nifong also mentioned having received five letters from victims of sexual assault, two of which were from former Duke students who were sexually assaulted by other Duke students during their time at the university.

Nifong had previously vowed not to comment on the case outside of the courtroom, clearly unhappy with media coverage of the case.

Today, he cited how "the media can have a substantial impact" -- positive or negative. Nifong breaks his silence just two four days before he faces a tough primary election, in which the Duke lacrosse case has become a central issue.

No Recollection of Previous Rape Complaint

Ted Pollard, Creedmoor's chief of police, said earlier today that aside from this report, he had no other documents or recollection of the case. The district attorney and assistant district attorney in office at the time of the 1993 incident don't either, he said.

Pollard said, "When [a rape case] comes to you four years later, you must have the alleged victim in order to pursue it. … I have no idea why she did not."

Kirk Osborn, a defense attorney for accused Duke University lacrosse player Reade Seligmann, said that no one on the defense team knew about this prior allegation until hearing it in media reports Thursday night.

"This is potentially very significant, but we need to know more about this accusation," he said. "We know her current accusation -- her second one -- has no merit."

What Her Family Says

While the police chief may not remember the allegations, the accuser's family does and has conflicting opinions on what happened in 1993.

The alleged victim's mother told the Herald-Sun newspaper in North Carolina that her daughter had gone to a psychiatrist after the first alleged rape and had put it behind her.

"She got over that in about a year," she said.

On Thursday, her father told The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh, N.C., that his daughter had not been raped in the 1993 incident.

"They didn't do anything to her," he said.

The father said his daughter had been held against her will by a group of men who had picked her up from school in Durham and driven her to Creedmoor. She was not sexually assaulted or injured in the encounter, he said, and she was returned home safely the same day.

The alleged victim's former husband, Kenneth Nathanial McNeill, told ABC News that he believed she had been raped in 1993. She and McNeill were engaged at the time when the police report was filed.

McNeill was sympathetic to his former wife in an interview with Essence magazine. He said that he was happy with the indictments of lacrosse players Seligmann and Collin Finnerty because he was glad "to see justice done."

Potential Impact on the Duke Case

Nothing in the police report suggests whether the alleged victim was lying or telling the truth in 1996. It does not necessarily place doubt on her recent allegations.

Still, some see the report as ideal evidence for the defense. Documentation of prior rape allegations, particularly allegations that were not followed through, could be portrayed by the defense as damaging to the accuser's credibility.

"I don't know how much worse it can get for the prosecution or better it can get for the defense," said Mark Edwards, a criminal defense lawyer in Durham, N.C.

Others point out that instead of undermining her credibility, the alleged prior incident of rape and assault suggests that the alleged victim has lived through tough times and sad circumstances.

"It is certainly possible for a woman to be raped more than once in her life," said Ellen Berkowitz, a lawyer affiliated with the California Women's Law Center.

"The fact that a woman reported a previous rape should not, in and of itself, completely destroy her credibility in alleging she has been raped again," Berkowitz said.

Will a Jury Hear About the 1996 Case?

One North Carolina lawyer told ABC News that according to federal rules of evidence, the record of prior rape allegations would likely be admissible in court. Rule 404 (b) allows historical evidence as proof of motive, intent, preparation or plan.

Even so, in its current form -- without knowledge of the outcome of the investigation -- the 1996 police report may not be admissible in the Duke case. If it can be shown what determination police made about the veracity of the alleged victim's 1996 allegations, then the report could be admitted as evidence in the Duke lacrosse investigation.

This rule, more often invoked by prosecutors, could be used by the defense in this case "to show she has some type of plan or scheme to try and undercut her credibility," North Carolina defense lawyer Mark Edwards said.

Part of Potential "Wish List" for the Defense?

Last week, the defense team for indicted lacrosse player Reade Seligmann filed a motion requesting detailed personal information about the alleged victim that would "affect her credibility as a witness." The motion's intent would be to point out incidents that call into question her personal credibility and with it, the truthfulness of her allegations of rape.

"Those motions were a kind of wish list of things any defense lawyer would want to find," Edwards said. "And it looks like that wish list is coming true."

Defense lawyer and legal analyst Brian Wice thinks the police report and prior rape allegations could have serious consequences on the Duke lacrosse case.

"If this is true, [District Attorney] Mike Nifong has a better chance of winning the Heisman trophy than getting a conviction in this case [if the prior allegation was false]," Wice said.

Yet Wice could also see what logic the prosecution would use to put the prior incident in a different perspective in a potential case before jurors.

"They're apples and oranges. … What happened 10 years ago has no relevance to what happened last month," Wice said. "It doesn't make it any more or less likely that she was assaulted."

The fact that it took her three years to come forward after the alleged 1993 attack may be inconsequential. North Carolina has no statute of limitations on felonies. A rape can still be filed and prosecuted, whether it be three years or 30 years after the incident.