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In 2006, the Duke lacrosse team was accused of gang raping a black stripper. It was an explosive story that caused outrage worldwide. It was a story that implicated racism, sexism, and classism. Many activists jumped at the opportunity to condemn the accused. The vitriol across the nation was palpable. The only problem is that none of it was true. It was all made up.

The Party Where it Began

On March 13, 2006, the Duke lacrosse team had a house party. One of the players called an escort service. Shortly thereafter, two strippers showed up at the residence. One of them was clearly under the influence of some controlled substance. She passed out on the floor within 5 minutes of arriving. After she came to, the two strippers left the party. Several of the players were upset, feeling that they had been hustled. They had paid hundreds of dollars, and the girls were gone in a matter of minutes. A racially charged statement was said. This was wrong. But it was not rape. The girls left. And the team went their separate ways for the night.

Spawning of the Lie

The complainant went to the hospital. It’s not clear what led her to lie. That suggestive questions were asked of this stripper is the most likely scenario. It was the middle of the night and based on her attire it would have been easy to conclude what line of work she was in. She was so intoxicated she could barely remain conscious, and her panicked state could have led hospital staff to a suspicion this occurred. The end result was that a report was put out that the complainant was alleging sexual assault. She alleged three members of the team did it.

The Closed Loop Identification

The complainant was shown pictures of the entire lacrosse team. I’ll only briefly touch on this here, but this is improper lineup procedure. Go to my page about false identifications to learn more about combatting this. But there was no possibility of her picking anyone other than somebody on the team. She was essentially given a picture of the team and said “here, pick three, any three will do”. She only picked two. The district attorney charged these two. And he also charged a 3rd for reasons that were bogus, but are beyond the scope of this article.

The Players that Weren't Even There

The problem with these charges is they were verifiably false.  DNA testing excluded all of the Duke lacrosse players as being contributors. Multiple of the players had alibis. One of the players was on camera at a bank ATM a mile away at the time the alleged assault occurred. The other cell phone evidence from the players shows there wasn’t an opportunity. She had chosen players who had already left the party even before the strippers had showed up. And her initial descriptions of those who assaulted her were contradictory with her selections. He description of a short stocky man could not have been more different from the tall wiry Collin Finnerty who she selected.

Exculpatory DNA Evidence Hidden from the Defense

Despite the evidence being non-existent and contradictory, the district attorney pressed on trying to charge this case. The real turning point in the case came at a pre-trial hearing where it came out that there were 7-11 men whose DNA was on complainant. None of them were Duke Lacrosse players. And most damning of all for the prosecution, they intentionally hid this information from the Defense. Watch ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Fantastic Lies” to see the full impact of this dramatic court room moment when the forensic analysis admits hiding the information. The district attorney was later disbarred for his actions in this case. After the state attorney general took over the case and reviewed the evidence, he dismissed the case against all three boys.

Takeaways for the Falsely Accused

If you are falsely accused based on a lie, the first thing you want to look for is if there is a motive for the accuser. However, there was no clear motive in the Duke Lacrosse Case. These charges are particularly difficult to defend, because people naturally ask, “why would they lie?” And if you can’t answer that question, you have an uphill battle against you. But that doesn’t mean you have struck out. You need to be vigilant in looking at other evidence in the case. Alibi evidence was particularly helpful in the Duke Lacrosse Case. You can't be two places at once. And if you're cashing a check at a bank ATM a mile away like in the Duke Lacrosse, you can't be committing the alleged crime. The crucial difference between a weak alibi defense and a stronger one is getting evidence to corroborate the alibi. For example, Walter McMillan was at a fresh fry with multiple eyewitnesses but still was convicted despite the alibi witnesses. But a piece of evidence like a receipt can go a long way to proving you were far away from the crime scene. You may not have an actual receipt, but consider what pieces of evidence may be available to show where you were at. Something as small as six inch-long-piece of paper can make all the difference.

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Peter Lindstrom, Esq.

Founder of Subzero Criminal Defense

I practice exclusively in the state of Minnesota. If you are falsely accused in Minnesota, contact me for a consultation. If you are falsely accused in another state or country, contact a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction. 

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