HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

September 3, 2007
A Tale of Justice Gone Wrong

John R. Guthrie
TheChickasawPlum.com


The evening of 13 March, 2006, members of Duke University’s lacrosse team held a keg party at 610 N. Buchanan Boulevard in Durham, N.C., the rented home of the lacrosse team's captains. Two strippers, Crystal Gale Mangum and Kim Roberts, both black, were hired through an escort service.  Crystal was drunk to the point of falling and allegedly had other drugs, “a powerful muscle relaxant, [10]” in her system. The one black Duke lacrosse player was not present at the party.

After she left the party with Crystal in her car, Kim Roberts contacted the police due to Crystal’s bizarre behavior. The police arrived, and were going to take Crystal to a mental health facility for involuntary commitment. Then Crystal asserted that she was anally, vaginally, and orally raped by 20 members of the lacrosse team. She was taken instead to Duke University Medical Center.

This sat in motion a train of events well suited for a Greek tragedy, with Durham N.C. district Attorney Mike Nifong like Aristophanes’ tyrant Creon, crafting his own ruin to the wailing threnody of the Greek Chorus constituted by the press and an inflamed public. The rape accusation, particularly in the geographical and historical context in which it occurred, involved a ferocious confluence of differing ideas about race, gender, and class. The outcry and public indignation on both sides of the issue was immediate and fierce, with few reserving judgment or endorsing the concept of innocence until proven guilty.  

Though Crystal originally claimed 20 assailants, the story continued to shift evolving finally into some twelve distinctly different versions. After the police showed her pictures of all the Duke Lacrosse players -- and no one else. Crystal accused three lacrosse players of raping her; Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans. Durham D.A. Mike Nifong, who was running for reelection, despite a lack of incriminating evidence and a considerable body of evidence to the contrary, indicted the three players.

The police officers involved, lacking evidence of guilt, manufactured it in the form of false written reports and accusatory public statements. Durham police officer Mark Addison, in an infamous "Crimestoppers" poster showed 43 of the Duke lacrosse players, Addison declared publicly and emphatically that Mangum was raped, strangled, sodomized, and robbed. Durham police officer, who Mark Gottlieb was appointed chief investigator in the case. He is described as a “…is a barrel-chested man known for his get tough approach to petty crime—especially if the petty criminals were obviously Duke students. [56].” In order to impute guilt, officer Gottlieb also altered and fabricated case notes concerning the alleged rape.

Before anyone was indicted, 88 Duke University faculty members (3 % of the total) signed a full page ad in the campus newspaper, the Duke Chronicle. The ad consisted of anonymous student quotes stating that Duke was not responding to the crisis.  The ad also cited the alleged rape as part of a larger picture of racism and sexism on campus). Overall, the ad impugned by implication and by the absence of such cautionary adjectives as “alleged” the guilt of the accused scholar athletes.

The local and national press contributed greatly to the torment the lacrosse players had to endure. (Television reporter Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes, in his interview of the players, proved to be an exception.) The Raleigh News and Observer printed the following front page headline: “Dancer Gives Details of Ordeal,” written by Samiha Khanna and Anne Blythe, followed by “an unbelievably sympathetic story, [81]” portraying the alleged victim, Crystal, as a “single mother of two who was struggling to take care of her family and finish her degree at the {historically black North Carolina Central University} [81].” This was the only time the accuser talked with the press, and her story was eventually proved to be “filled with half truths and lies [81].”

The accuser, Crystal Gail Mangum, can most charitably be described as a very troubled young woman.  H.P. “Fats” Thomas, security manager at the Platinum Strip Club where Crystal worked was somewhat more direct.  He described Crystal as, essentially, a general purpose sex worker, lap dancer and exotic dancer. Fats attempted to provide the DA with a film and testimony of the allegedly brutally beaten Crystal dancing vigorously and normally a few days afterward, but Nifong refused to view it. While demonstrators who were keeping a vigil in front of the lacrosse players’ residence at 610 N. Buchanan, “fell to their knees and wept for the poor woman who had been brutally assaulted and damaged for life. Ironically, according to Fats, Crystal was on her knees at this time, too, but for a different reason [88].”

The Duke lacrosse players voluntarily submitted to DNA testing. Examination of the accuser indicated the presence of DNA from seven different men in her vagina and anus. None, however, belonged to the lacrosse players. Ten years before, the accuser had made similar allegations against three other men, but the case never came to trial. Mike Nifong concealed the previous accusation and the DNA evidence from the defense attorneys.

During the following year, the accused players, living with possible 30-year prison sentences hanging over their heads, found that they were highly radioactive. Duke University suspended Seligmann, 21, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y., after their arrest. The third player, David Evans had already graduated by then.

Nifong finally withdrew from the case in January, 207 after the North Carolina bar charged him with making misleading and inflammatory comments to the media about the athletes under suspicion. The bar later added more serious charges of withholding evidence from defense attorneys and lying to the court. Charges against the three players were dropped by the N.C. state Attorney General Roy Cooper in June, with the statement that the players were innocent.

The players survived the ordeal because of team coherence under the continued leadership and unwavering support of Coach Mike Pressler. Not all of the players’ families had resources, but resources were found for them. The players have since allegedly received an eight figure voluntary settlement from Duke.

It’s not about the Truth is generally well-written, informative, and compelling. It tells, in part, how a great university for a moment in its history lost its way. Yet from time-to-time it slips its  moorings to the Duke lacrosse case and the inequities involved  and mounts an ideological attack on the university, Duke in particular, and the university system in general.
E.g.:
“It is one of America’s worst kept secrets: College campuses are a breeding ground
for radical left-leaning faculty. They are often anti-American, anti-white male, and
anti any other facet of our society that has enjoyed ‘Privilege’ of one type or another [119].” 

It’s Not About the Truth tells an intriguing and chilling story of prosecutorial and law enforcement malfeasance. It relates the tale of a rush to justice on the part of academics who would have been better served by forbearance. The story, though, speaks for itself, and the author’s ideological views detract from the overall effect of a tale well told.


It's Not About the Truth:The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered
Don Yaeger with Mike Pressler
ISBN 9781416551461
319 pages
$25.00


Dr. John R. Guthrie practiced family medicine in the Smokey Mountain foothills of Appalachia for years. As an adolescent he was a U.S. Marine infantry rifleman and later served as a physician in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He lives in Southern California and is a writer and social activist.


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