Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Duke University men’s lacrosse team received scandalous national attention when an exotic dancer accused three of the team’s players of raping her during a party. The case led to heated public debate about rape, racism, and press coverage. It also led to the firing of the team’s head coach, to the cancellation of the lacrosse team’s season, to the disbarring and public disgrace of the prosecutor, to the exoneration of the three indicted players, and to civil lawsuits.

Summary of Event

On the evening of March 13, 2006, the student body of Duke University had been enjoying spring break. Remaining on the Durham, North Carolina, campus were members of the university’s lacrosse team, which had games scheduled during the break. Players gathered at the rented house of a teammate at 610 West Buchanan Boulevard, opposite Duke’s east campus. The house was owned by the university. [kw]Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape (Mar. 14, 2006) [kw]Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape, Duke (Mar. 14, 2006) [kw]Rape, Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang (Mar. 14, 2006) Rape;and Duke lacrosse team[Duke lacrosse team] Coaches;lacrosse Nifong, Mike Mangum, Crystal Gail Rape;and Duke lacrosse team[Duke lacrosse team] Coaches;lacrosse Nifong, Mike Mangum, Crystal Gail [g]United States;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] [c]Law and the courts;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] [c]Sex crimes;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] [c]Publishing and journalism;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] [c]Women’s issues;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] [c]Racism;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] [c]Social issues and reform;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] [c]Education;Mar. 14, 2006: Duke Lacrosse Players Are Accused of Gang Rape[03570] Seligmann, Reade Finnerty, Collin Evans, David Pressler, Mike Brodhead, Richard H.

Duke University lacrosse player Reade Seligmann, right, speaks with his attorney in court in Durham, North Carolina, on May 18, 2006. Seligmann and two teammates were indicted for rape but were later exonerated.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Earlier in the day, team member Dan Flannery hired two exotic dancers to provide entertainment for a party scheduled for that evening. Kim Roberts, who was African American-Asian, and Crystal Gail Mangum, who was African American, were set to arrive at the party at 11 p.m. They were scheduled to dance for two hours and were paid eight hundred dollars in advance for their services. Kim (the two dancers used their first names only when working) arrived shortly after the scheduled time and Crystal arrived shortly before midnight. By that time the party was well under way, and many members of the team had been drinking for some time.

Shortly after midnight, Crystal and Kim locked themselves in the house’s only bathroom before leaving the house around 12:20 on the morning of March 14. Kim left the property entirely but Crystal, a student at North Carolina Central University, also in Durham, remained in the yard. Perhaps intoxicated, she was photographed lying on her side at 12:37, having fallen down. At 12:41, she was photographed as she entered a car belonging to Kim, who had returned to the property. At 12:53, Kim called 911 complaining that men outside the house were shouting racial epithets at them. Two police cars arrived within five minutes, but because all was quiet, they left the residence.

At 1:22, Kim again called the police because Crystal was drunk and unconscious in her black Honda. The police arrived, removed Crystal from Kim’s car, and took her to Duke University Medical Center, where, during initial screening, Crystal answered “yes” when asked whether she had been raped. One hour later, she told a police officer that she had not been raped. He called headquarters to inform the watch commander that Crystal withdrew her rape allegation. However, Crystal then told a sexual-abuse nurse that she had been raped, so her accusation of rape was not withdrawn by police.

Although Crystal’s account was inconsistent, the rape charge was investigated nonetheless. On March 16, the accuser was asked to identify the alleged rapists from photographs of all forty-six members of the lacrosse team. She singled out three white men. One of the men, Reade Seligmann, had a persuasive alibi and could prove that he was not in the house at the time the rape allegedly took place. He had left the house and was taped by a surveillance camera using an automatic teller machine (ATM) some distance from Buchanan Boulevard, the site of the party. His ATM transaction was made at 12:24 a.m. on March 14.

As the case developed, all forty-six lacrosse players voluntarily provided DNA samples to investigators. These samples were compared to the DNA collected from semen that was in Crystal’s vagina and on her underclothing the night of the alleged rape. The samples from the lacrosse players did not match the DNA of the semen, suggesting that Crystal had sexual intercourse—consensual or by means of rape—with someone on the evening in question, but not with any of the accused.

Duke University president Richard H. Brodhead first heard of the accusations on March 20. On March 24, Coach Mike Pressler met with Duke administrators and supported the accused players. The following day, Brodhead met with advisers to discuss how best to handle the case. On March 28, Brodhead suspended the lacrosse team pending the outcome of the investigation.

Mike Nifong, acting Durham County district attorney at the time of the incident, was running for election as district attorney. He was courting the black vote, so he had a personal interest in impressing the black community with his ability to serve their interests. As he became more fully involved in the case, he won increasing support among black voters. He capitalized on the strained relations between Duke, often portrayed as a rich person’s school, and the surrounding, somewhat impoverished, black community.

By March 29, the Duke scandal had received national attention when it was reported in a front-page article in New York Times;and Duke lacrosse team[Duke lacrosse team] The New York Times. On that day, Brodhead met with members of the Duke faculty senate, who urged him to suspend the lacrosse team, dissolve the lacrosse program, and fire coach Pressler. On April 5, Brodhead canceled the team’s season and demanded that Pressler resign. The following day, eighty-eight members of the Duke faculty signed a statement condemning the alleged gang rape and published their statement in the Duke Chronicle.

On April 17, players Collin Finnerty and Seligmann were indicted on charges of first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense, and kidnapping. Kidnapping;and Duke lacrosse team[Duke lacrosse team] If found guilty, the two would have received life sentences. Senior player David Evans received his bachelor’s degree on May 14 and was indicted the following day on similar charges.

As the case proceeded, Nifong’s prosecution turned scandalous. He withheld from defense counsel such items as the surveillance Video evidence videotape showing Seligmann using the ATM at the time the alleged rape occurred. He minimized the importance of inconsistencies in Crystal’s account of the alleged rape. Most critically, he withheld the results of the DNA tests that would have instantly exonerated all three defendants.

Four days before the election, the judge in the case ordered Nifong to turn over the DNA results to the defense, but Nifong ignored this order. On November 7, he won the election. Glaring irregularities in the prosecution’s case increasingly became apparent, and the rape charges against the three defendants were dropped on December 22.

On December 28, the North Carolina State Bar filed ethics charges against Nifong, claiming in its report that his conduct in the case was “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” The bar’s report also said that Nifong had engaged in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”

Nifong was sworn in as district attorney on January 2, 2007. Ten days later, he asked North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper to take over the case. On June 16, Nifong was disbarred. In April, all remaining charges against the players were dropped by Cooper. In August, Nifong was sentenced to one day in jail and fined $500 for criminal contempt of court.


The initial scandal in this case was the gang rape allegations against three Duke lacrosse players. As the case moved forward, the scandal grew to include the university’s rush to judgment in canceling the lacrosse season, suspending players, firing the team’s head coach, and issuing a statement by its faculty senate that condemned the alleged gang rape. President Brodhead acted precipitously in suspending Finnerty and Seligmann without convincing evidence that they were guilty. The forced resignation of Coach Pressler, who helped raise the team to national prominence during his sixteen years at Duke, was brought about by external pressures and the fear of bad publicity such a case would bring to the university. Even had the three players been found guilty, Pressler’s forced resignation would have been unjustified.

Even more scandalous was the self-serving prosecution of the case by a civil servant—acting district attorney Nifong—who was desperately attempting to establish his worth as a politician. His unethical actions came close to destroying the lives of three innocent university students. In the end, Duke University was forced to pay damages to those harmed by the case. Durham County and Nifong were sued for damages as well. Rape;and Duke lacrosse team[Duke lacrosse team] Coaches;lacrosse Nifong, Mike Mangum, Crystal Gail

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernstein, Viv, and Joe Drape. “Rape Allegation Against Athletes Is Roiling Duke.” The New York Times, March 29, 2006. The first national story about the scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nelson, Michael. “Bad Call.” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 6, 2007. An insightful consideration of the role that stereotypes played in the scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smolkin, Rachel. “Justice Delayed.” American Journalism Review, August-September, 2007. An analysis of the news media’s response to the gang rape allegations. Critical of the press’s rush to condemn and its assumptions of guilt in the case.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taylor, Stuart, Jr., and K. C. Johnson. Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007. An examination of the accusations of rape and of the refusal of the prosecutor to accept incontrovertible evidence of their innocence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yaeger, Don, with Mike Pressler. It’s Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered. New York: Threshold Editions, 2007. An intimate look into the scandal as told by coach Mike Pressler to writer Don Yaeger.

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Categories: History