Skip to main content
Home Asia Europe U.S. World Business Tech Science Entertainment Sport Travel Weather Specials Video I-Reports
Law Center

N.C. attorney general: Duke players 'innocent'

Adjust font size:
Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font

RALEIGH, North Carolina (CNN) -- North Carolina's Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that the three former Duke University lacrosse players who faced sexual assault charges are "innocent" and the charges are being dropped.

Below is a transcript of his announcement and answers to questions at the new conference:

ROY COOPER: On January the 13th of this year, I accepted the request of the Durham County district attorney to take over three Durham cases. At the time I promised a fresh and thorough review of the facts and a decision on the best way to proceed.

I also said that we would have our eyes wide open to the evidence, but that we would have blinders on to all other distractions. We have done all of these things. (Watch: 'No credible evidence that an attack occurred' Video)

During the past 12 weeks, our lawyers and investigators have reviewed the remaining allegations of sexual assault and kidnapping that resulted from a party on March 13, 2006, in Durham, North Carolina. We carefully reviewed the evidence, collected by the Durham County prosecutor's office and the Durham Police Department.

We've also conducted our own interviews and evidence gathering. Our attorneys and SBI agents have interviewed numerous people who were at the party, DNA and other experts, the Durham County district attorney, Durham police officers, defense attorneys, and the accusing witness on several occasions. We have reviewed statements given over the year, photographs, records, and other evidence.

The result of our review and investigation shows clearly that there is insufficient evidence to proceed on any of the charges. Today we are filing notices of dismissal for all charges against Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans. The result is that these cases are over, and no more criminal proceedings will occur.

We believe that these cases were the result of a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations. Based on the significant inconsistencies between the evidence and the various accounts given by the accusing witness, we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges.

Now, we approached this case with the understanding that rape and sexual assault victims often have some inconsistencies in their account of a traumatic event. However, in this case, the inconsistencies were so significant and so contrary to the evidence that we have no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night.

Now, the prosecuting witness in this case responded to our questions and offered information. She did want to move forward with the prosecution.

However, the contradictions in her many versions of what occurred and the conflicts between what she said occurred and other evidence like photographs and phone records, could not be rectified.

Our investigation shows that the eyewitness identification procedures were faulty and unreliable. No DNA confirms the accuser's story. No other witness confirms her story. Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself.

Next week we'll be providing a written summary of the important factual findings and some of the specific contradictions that have led us to the conclusion that no attack occurred.

Now, in this case, with the weight of the state behind him, the Durham district attorney pushed forward unchecked. There were many points in this case where caution would have served justice better than bravado, and in the rush to condemn a community and a state, lost the ability to see clearly.

Regardless of the reasons that this case was pushed forward, the result was wrong. Today we need to learn from this and keep it from happening again to anybody.

Now, we have good district attorneys in North Carolina who are both tough and fair, and we need these forceful, independent prosecutors to put criminals away and protect the public, but we also need checks and balances to protect the innocent.

This case shows the enormous consequences of over-reaching by a prosecutor. What has been learned here is that the internal checks on a criminal charge -- sworn statements, reasonable grounds, proper suspect photo lineups, accurate and fair discovery -- all are critically important.

Therefore, I propose a law that the North Carolina Supreme Court have the authority to remove a case from a prosecutor in limited circumstances. This would give the courts a new tool to deal with a prosecutor who needs to step away from a case where justice demands.

I want to thank everyone in the North Carolina Department of Justice. I want to thank the investigators, our SBI agents, and especially attorneys Jim Coman and Mary Winstead for their hard work in this matter.

Next week we will be distributing a fact summary sheet, and you will have that then, but I'll go ahead and take some of your questions now. Go.

QUESTION: Considering what you just said about the D.A. and about the accuser, what would you say to the three men who were charged?

COOPER: Well, I'm telling them what I tell everyone in North Carolina. We have looked at the charges. We have looked at the law. And we have cleared them of all of these charges. And it is important to note that the Durham County district attorney is now facing ethics charges with the North Carolina Bar Association.

Q: Mr. Cooper, do you feel like -- do you feel the need to apologize in any way, I mean, in terms of what happened here?

COOPER: Well, you know, I think a lot of people owe a lot of apologies to other people. I think that those people ought to consider doing that.

Q: What do you think District Attorney Mike Nifong is thinking, now that you've reviewed all this -- all the evidence, done these interviews? What -- how do you think he came to the conclusion he came to?

COOPER: Well, I'm concerned, although our investigation did not concentrate on this, but I saw the statements and now we've done the investigation. I'm concerned that statements were made publicly about things that turned out not to be true. That's a concern. And right now I think it's appropriate that the North Carolina Bar Association is looking at these ethics charges.

Q: How damaging do you think it will be to the perception...

COOPER: I'm not going to speculate.

Q: I mean, the justice system in North Carolina. How concerned are you that it will have a negative impact to the justice system?

COOPER: I'll tell you about this. Any state in the country, including the federal government, can have a rogue prosecutor who goes on out on his own and does thing continues. Here in North Carolina we have solved the problem, we've corrected the problem. But I propose today a way that I think it can be done more quickly, and I think that that's important.

Q: To follow up just briefly, I just was wanting to know. This brings up a largest contextual concern. These defendants were able to retain counsel. They had -- were able to retain counsel, no doubt at a high cost. What about the people who are in these north county jails or state prisons who cannot afford counsel, who may be innocent of charges?

COOPER: I think there are a lot of broader issues that we have to look at. What we were concentrating on are the facts in this case, and we rendered a decision based on those facts.

Q: How -- how difficult has this decision been for you? And is there any truth to the fact that you went to see a doctor yesterday?

COOPER: Well, what happened yesterday is I was out running and got a little bit dehydrated. I run four, five days a week. Got a little dehydrated. I wanted to make sure that I got it checked out. That's all. I'm fine. I wanted to run to this press conference, but my staff wouldn't let me. So I'm doing just fine.

Q: A relayed (ph) question. Did Mike Nifong ever interview (the victim) before charges were brought? Do you have any evidence about that? And secondly, has she ever told the same story twice?

COOPER: Well, in answer to your second question, she's told many stories. Some things are consistent within those stories, but there were many stories that were told. We're going to release a lot of the specific information next week.

I don't want to say for sure whether Mr. Nifong talked with her before charges were brought. I know he talked with her at some point, but I don't know the answer to that question. We can find that out for you.

Q: Would you recommend to the council of the state that the state of North Carolina defend his liberties as he defends himself?

COOPER: You know, I am not going to speculate or comment on any particular civil litigation that might occur at this point.

Q: No, no, you do have authority to recommend to the counsel of the state whether or not the state picks up his legal fees.

COOPER: Well, we'll deal with that issue when it comes -- comes about.

Q: What conversations have you had with Mike Nifong? And how did that go?

COOPER: Jim Coman and Mary Winstead have talked with Mr. Nifong about this, and I don't know what the results of their conversation were, but they were going to call him and tell him about our decision today.

Q: Did you not talk with him?

COOPER: I don't talk with him, no.

Q: Do you believe the accuser lied in this case? And will there be any criminal charges against her?

COOPER: Well, we have considered that. Our investigators who talked with her and the attorneys who talked with her over a period of time think that she may actually believe the many different stories that she has been telling.

And in reviewing the whole history, there are records under seal that I'm not going to talk about, but we believe it's in the best interest of justice not to bring charges, and we have made that decision, as well.

Q: What about Mike Nifong? Do you think that his actions warrant a criminal investigation?

COOPER: Well, I think it's important that we let the process work with the North Carolina State Bar Association. Our investigation dealt mostly with the facts of this case and making a decision. Their investigation is dealing more with the pretrial comments and with the discovery issues on the DNA that our investigators really did not get into the details of that.

I think once the bar finishes that hearing process, then we will know more about that process when it comes.

Q: Is it a possibility?

COOPER: It's certainly a possibility, but I don't want to -- to speculate at this point. I think all options are certainly on the table.

Q: Mr. Cooper, the charges caused some racial discord, to say the least. How much damage, in your opinion, do you think has been done to the community? And do you think your actions today go very far in fixing the problem?

COOPER: Well, first I think all over the country there is certainly racial and economic injustice. And in my public career and in my private career, I've worked to help right those wrongs and work toward progress. And I think we all need to do it.

But for the purposes of this case, we looked at the facts and the evidence alone and made a decision on it. We promised that we would have blinders to all other distractions, and so we've worked mostly on this case. I'll leave it to other people to decide any kind of long-term effects that this has.

Q: There were many defense attorneys who believe that Michael Nifong should be disbarred for his actions, that he -- that was guilty of obstruction of justice.

I'm wondering, based on your investigation, based on everything you know, do you believe he should be disbarred? And if you cannot answer that question, what do you think should happen? Should he be allowed to continue as district attorney?

COOPER: I think it would prejudice his hearing of the bar if I would preempt their opinion. I want them to go through the process. He should be afforded that process, to have that hearing over there on all of these issues. So we'll let that happen first.


Q: Was the woman somewhat mentally unstable? Was that part of the problem? With all these stories. You mentioned she believed some of these different stories. Is there a mental illness?

COOPER: I -- I don't want to characterize that in that way. What I would want to say is that our investigators looked at all of the records, think she actually believed what she -- the many stories she was telling, and we made the decision based on a lot of things. I don't want to talk about what was in those records under seal, but I think it's in the best interest of justice.

Q: Do the investigators think that she believed what she was saying from the start, or that she came to believe them over time?

COOPER: I think that -- I think that they believed the belief occurred as she was telling these things. And they don't know, but they've worked real hard with her, but it just doesn't make sense. You can't piece it together.

Q: Mr. Cooper, can I just ask you...

Q: ... how do you feel about this legal abuse of power? What does it say about the legal profession?

COOPER: Well, what I have worked on is what has happened with this case. We've made a decision on this case. We're going to continue to work with the proposal that I have made to make things happen more quickly, and we're going to continue to work hard to do good for North Carolina.



Find a local attorney at Martindale-Hubbell's®
Enter City:

or: Search by Lawyer's Name

Law Firm Marketing: Expert Help for Attorneys from
CNN TV How To Get CNN Partner Hotels Contact Us Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
SERVICES » E-mail RSSRSS Feed PodcastsRadio News Icon CNN Mobile CNN Pipeline
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more