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D-Day in Durham

A grand jury convenes in Durham today and there is speculation that District Attorney Mike Nifong will put evidence before it seeking the indictment of two Duke lacrosse players for the alleged rape of the stripper from the now infamous party that took place on March 13-14.

As with all grand juries, the proceedings will be secret and the defense will not be present. The prosecution will lay out its evidence and ask the grand jury to hand down an indictment(s). Odds say they will get what they ask for. The players in question would be arrested and the case would then proceed to trial where they would face a minimum of sixteen years in prison, if convicted.

We are, to put it bluntly, at a critical juncture in the case.

As things stand, there are no indications Nifong has anything other than the alleged victims' visual identification of her supposed attackers (which, according to news reports, came via photograph and possibly a week or more after the alleged incident) and the results of a medical examination conducted at Duke Hospital on the night of the alleged attack saying the woman had signs of genital trauma consistent with what she said had occurred.

That medical report, however, is offset by the fact that DNA tests concluded that no genetic material from any of the 46 players tested was found anywhere on the woman or her belongings - not even under her fingernails despite she claims to have tried to fend off the attackers by scratching them.

Meanwhile, the defense has time-stamped photos and a statement from a neighbor which seem to contradict the alleged victim's account of events, and the AP reported on Thursday that police found the accuser "passed out drunk" and "not in distress" after responding to a call.

Taken as a whole this case seems questionable, and given all the implications surrounding it Nifong shouldn't go ahead and ask for indictments just because he can probably get them. One thing that does seem clear, based on reports from the 911 call of the other stripper present that night and the statement of the neighbor, is that some of the lacrosse players became angry after the women cut their performance short and began hurling racial slurs and epithets at them as they left the house. That is shameful behavior that doesn't reflect well on those players at all, and they should be punished accordingly for conduct unbecoming both the team and the University. But it isn't the same as rape, and so long as there are still serious questions about whether a rape even occurred, it would be a mistake for Nifong to seek indictments and arrests in this case today. He should ignore pressure, ignore politics, and continue the investigation to try to find out what really happened that night.