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Is The Duke Rape Story Unraveling?

By Tom Bevan

There's probably no better way to get a feel for what's been happening in the Duke University lacrosse team rape story than to read a series of revised news alerts on the case issued by the Durham Police's Crimestoppers unit.

An initial release sent out April 3 which offered cash rewards for tips about the case read: "The victim was sodomized, raped, assaulted and robbed. This horrific crime sent shock waves throughout our community."

Yesterday at 11:16am, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, Crimestoppers issued a revised version of the same news release which dropped the entire second sentence about a "horrific crime" and also added a qualifier to the first: "The victim alleges that she was sodomized, raped, assaulted and robbed." [emphasis added]

A mere eighteen minutes later a third revision was issued, changing the word "victim" to "complainant."

The evolving facts in the case seem to not only warrant those revisions but also to suggest that the case may be in the process of unraveling.

Two days ago defense attorneys for the Duke lacrosse players said they have time-stamped pictures which apparently call into question aspects of the alleged victim's account of the incident. Yesterday it was reported that there was not a single positive match from the DNA tests conducted on all 46 of the team's white players. Defense lawyers assert that no assault and no sex, coerced or otherwise, took place the night of March 14.

District Attorney Mike Nifong, however, continues to insist he believes the alleged victim was sexually assaulted and claims she was able to identify one of her attackers last week (defense attorneys scoff at the legitimacy of an ID two weeks after the alleged incident). At the start of this case Nifong, who is in the middle of a heated reelection campaign set for the beginning of May, displayed an attraction to television cameras that would make Chuck Schumer blush, doing more than 50 media interviews where he discussed the allegations.

Yesterday, Nifong imprudently (if not inexplicably) took part in a panel discussion on violence against women held at North Carolina Central University - the school where the alleged victim is from - fielding questions about the case from African-Americans who angrily suggested that if the racial components of the case were flipped (i.e. a white woman accusing 46 black players of rape) the whole team would have been arrested on the spot.

Today comes word that uber-lawyer Bob Bennett - who famously defended President Clinton against charges of sexual harassment by Paula Jones - has been hired by the families of the players to help manage the distorted media image that has developed around this case.

Bennett's message to reporters was, "Let's calm down. Let's let justice work itself, in an individualized process, and not have guilt by association." If you want to try and parse legalese, Bennett's statement could imply that perhaps one or two members of the team might be guilty of some crime (though we can't be sure exactly what) against the woman in question, but that the vast majority of the players are guilty of nothing more than being present at a college party where there was beer and strippers.

We'll know more in the coming days, of course, but at this point the case is looking more and more questionable. That doesn't reflect well on the District Attorney, the Duke University administration, or the national media which, quite characteristically, were quick to report sensational allegations of rape but have been slow to give the same sort of intense coverage to the various pieces of seemingly exculpatory information that have come to light in the following days.

And, of course, no racial drama would be complete without at least one of the nation's top hustlers on the scene - in this case Jesse Jackson who said yesterday that "there's such a history of white men and black women and rape and assault it [the Duke case] conjures up many ancient feelings and fears." That's only true if there's someone there to do the "conjuring," and Jackson is always more than happy to oblige.

This case is about whether or not violence was done to a woman. It doesn't matter whether she was black, brown, yellow or white. If a woman was violated against her will, the perpetrators of the crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

If it turns out, however, that violence wasn't done to this woman and the whole thing is a hoax, there are going to be an awful lot of Duke lacrosse players looking for a place where they can go to get their reputations back. But as history has too often shown, no such place exists.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email:

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