EXCLUSIVE: Duke Lacrosse Accuser Not Answering Investigators' Key Questions


March 16, 2007 — -- The woman who accused three members of the Duke University men's lacrosse team of sexual assault is not being forthcoming with special prosecutors, law enforcement sources close to the case tell ABC News.

The accuser has met at least twice with prosecutors from the North Carolina attorney general's office, which took over the case from Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong in January.

In those interviews she gave incomplete answers when asked about the events surrounding the alleged assault, according to sources.

The attorney general's office issued the following statement to ABC News:

"In discussions with our attorneys, the accuser has been cooperative in answering questions and providing information. More discussions are scheduled."

The same law enforcement sources also said, however, that Kim Roberts, the second dancer who attended the March 2006 party, had also refused to speak with investigators and had said she would do so only if subpoenaed.

Roberts has spoken to the media about the case, including doing an interview with ABC News' "Good Morning America."

Although neither woman has been forthcoming up to this point, the sources stressed that this could change and that the accuser might still fully participate with investigators.

In the coming weeks prosecutors will conduct further interviews with those involved in the case, leaving open the possibility that the accuser might say more about what she remembers from that night.

The accuser's testimony is the only known evidence that an alleged sexual assault took place at the off-campus party held by the lacrosse team. Two rounds of DNA testing compared samples from the accuser's body with samples taken from 46 members of the Duke lacrosse team. None of those tests linked any lacrosse players with samples from the rape kit.

With so much of the case hanging on witness testimony, not having the full cooperation of the accuser or Roberts could seriously undermine any prosecutor's case in court. More immediately, it could bring an end to the investigation.

"But if you're coming up on trial and you have a victim that doesn't want to answer questions, to recount the story over and over again, that's going to be a problem in court," said Josh Marquis, an Oregon-based district attorney and ranking member of the National District Attorneys Association.

Victims' rights advocates told ABC News that it could take the accuser time to get comfortable with the new prosecutors, stressing that her level of participation could change. They also say it could be part of a fairly normal reaction to what's been a highly abnormal case.

"She probably feels very beat up by the system. If you don't have a sense of trust in the system, then you're certainly not going to be forthcoming," said Leah Oettinger, an advocate most recently with the Durham Crisis Response Center. "Even just with the vicious attacks on the Web and her picture on TV. … The trauma, the lack of trust that anyone's going to be there for you, fear of being alone -- all of that could contribute to someone's reluctance to talk."

A spokeswoman for the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper would not comment on the accuser's participation with the investigation. She did, however, tell ABC News that the prosecutors were nearing the end of their work on the case.

"This will be wrapped up within the next few weeks," Julia White said. "They're drawing near the end of looking at documents and having conversations with those involved."

Sometime after the investigation is over, the attorney general's office is expected to announce whether the case will go to trial or if, on the contrary, charges against the three Duke lacrosse players will be dropped.

Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans were indicted for rape, sexual offense and kidnapping. The rape charges were dropped in December

According to sources close to the team, the prosecution has questioned at least eight members of the lacrosse team to date -- students who attended the party but were not among those accused.

On Thursday, Cooper and prosecutors from his office visited the house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., where the party took place the night of March 13, 2006.

Special prosecutors Jim Coman and Mary Winstead took over the case in January after Nifong recused himself, citing charges of unethical conduct in his handling of the case.

Oettinger, the victims' rights advocate, said the mix of the media glare, which included attacks on the accuser's credibility, could contribute to her reluctance to talk about an alleged crime.

The accuser's credibility has been questioned in the mainstream media and in online blogs, many of which point to her work as an exotic dancer and changes she made to her original account of the alleged attack. In the aftermath of the party, she gave different versions of her story, changing the number of attackers and the length of the assault.

Josh Marquis, the Oregon prosecutor who is not involved in the case, agreed that it could take time before an accuser dealing with new investigators starts providing key details.

"There are times when a victim feels victimized by the justice system itself," said Marquis, who has prosecuted sex crimes. "If the victim feels her credibility is attacked, feels distrustful and resentful of investigators … then it could take time for her to open up."

Oettinger said that the accuser's changing recollection of that night did not necessarily make it less likely that an assault had taken place.

"[Assault victims] don't clearly remember the event right away. It's not unusual and it doesn't mean they are lying," Oettinger said.

"When people have been through a trauma -- a car crash is a good analogy -- it can take them time to reconstruct the facts in their minds. Plus, sexual assault is uncomfortable for anyone to talk about."

An accuser's reluctance to tell her story may not necessarily mean her alleged attackers are innocent. Nonetheless, it could seriously undermine the criminal case against them, especially in absence of compelling physical evidence.

"The word of the victim is sometimes the only hard evidence that you have, and you need to prove that crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If the victim is reluctant, the chances you can achieve a conviction are substantially less," Marquis said.

Victims' advocates caution that even if accusers opts out of telling their story to investigators, ultimately deciding not to pursue the case, that in itself is not a declaration of alleged attackers' innocence.

"She could decide that in the end, it isn't worth going forward. That doesn't mean a crime didn't happen that night," Oettinger said.

The next court date in the Duke lacrosse case is scheduled for May 7. If the timing suggested by the attorney general's office holds, prosecutors will finish the investigation weeks before the case is back in court for that hearing.

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