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DNA Evidence Further Complicates Duke Rape Scandal

The college town of Durham, N.C. has been shaken by allegations that three members of Duke University's predominately white men's lacrosse team raped a black woman. A reporter covering the case updates the situation.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, criminal allegations and their impact on a top university and the community that surrounds it.

    We begin with some background from "NewsHour" correspondent Kwame Holman.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The college town of Durham, North Carolina has been shaken by allegations that members of Duke University's predominantly white men's lacrosse team raped a black woman.

    No charges have been filed and attorneys for the players say they are innocent, but the heavily publicized allegation has elevated issues of race and class in the community.

  • TIANA MACK, DUKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT:

    There are still more black people who are scrubbing toilets here on Duke's campus than who are students. No one wants to talk about the class issue.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The alleged victim is a 27-year-old student at predominantly black North Carolina Central University.

    She told police that at a party at this off-campus house last month she was beaten, choked and raped by three white members of the lacrosse team. She was one of two exotic dancers hired to perform at the party.

    Appearing today on the alleged victim's campus, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong acknowledged that DNA tests failed to link any of 46 white lacrosse team members to the victim. The team's one black member was not tested.

  • MIKE NIFONG, DISTRICT ATTORNEY:

    I have been criticized by both sides of this case. There have been people who said that I should have given this case up a long time ago. And there are people who said that I should have already indicted, moved against somebody with some charges. The fact is that this case is proceeding the way a case should proceed.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Nifong said DNA evidence often can't be found in rape cases, but lawyers representing many of the players see the lack of such evidence as crucial.

  • JOSEPH CHESHIRE, DEFENSE LAWYER:

    If you look at the DNA results, it's obvious that, first of all, she wasn't raped in that house by any of these boys. That DNA absolutely says that.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The alleged rape of a black woman by white men with its racial overtones has roiled the community.

  • UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:

    If it had been the other way around, if it was a white woman being raped by black males I think they would be waiting for the test results in jail.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The lacrosse team's coach resigned shortly after the allegation was made and Duke University has canceled the lacrosse season.

    In a statement on its Web site, Duke officials said they are confident the police investigation will ultimately reveal the truth.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now for more on this story, I'm joined by Bob Ashley, editor of the "Durham Herald-Sun." He's a 1970 Duke graduate and now covers the Durham community.

    Welcome, Bob.

    BOB ASHLEY, Editor, "Durham Herald-Sun": Thank you.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Why is this a big story?

    BOB ASHLEY, Editor, "Durham Herald-Sun": Why is it a big story? I think it combines so many forces right now. It combines the question of race. It combines the question of, you know, 200 years of concern over exploitation of black women by white men of privilege. It contains the elements of an elite university and its surrounding community.

    Many of the neighbors have long been concerned about raucous parties, so we have undergraduate party behavior there at issue. We have sexual violence against women.

    It's really a perfect storm of events that have come together and causes that have come together.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So we've now been hearing about this for — we're in our second week on this story.

    Why shouldn't — we should point out these men have not been charged. Why is that? Why do we think that is?

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    Well, the district attorney says it's because he's continuing his investigation.

    And I think as he pointed out in his statement to you and has said to us and others before, he's trying to be methodical about this. There's a lot of attention on what he does.

    He's getting tremendous pressure really from both sides — from the supporters of the players who really have been in full tilt today after the DNA evidence came out, was released by defense attorneys yesterday, and certainly by folks who feel that the victim is not being properly attended to by a failure to move forward more quickly toward a charge and ultimately some kind of justice.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Elaborate on the pressure that's being brought to bear from both sides.

    Is this a community where these have been concerns which have just been under the surface and now this is giving them an outlet?

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    Well, I think some of the concerns that have been under the surface here and sometimes not under the surface, on the surface, are not in some ways atypical.

    Certainly, the question of town-gown relations and the way neighbors feel about students off campus are not unique to Durham and to Duke.

    The question of whether athletes are — have a sense of entitlement particularly in some of the more esoteric sports like lacrosse, where I think that may particularly come into play, have been here and have simmering but they've been other places and been simmering.

    This has clearly brought them to a bit of a boil. And a community such as Durham and, frankly, such as Duke where people are quite outspoken and quite eager to speak up on issues and to speak out on causes — that's always been a tenet, a trait of this community, and I think that plays into this as well. We're not sure it's an unhealthy thing that people here do that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    How much of this, then, however, is driven by racial tension?

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    Well, Durham has always been a city with some underlying racial issues.

    There is no majority race here. I think it's 45 percent African- American, 44 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic and 2 percent other. And the Hispanic is probably undercounted.

    So you've long had a tradition here of sort of jockeying for position to some extent.

    I think, on the other hand, it's worth noting this is a city where racial dialogue is often quite open and quite often has been expressed positively at the ballot box and elsewhere.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You're standing there on the Duke campus.

    How is the university responding to all this?

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    Well, I think they took some criticism and probably rightly so in the early days for not responding more quickly.

    I think they would argue that they were trying to get a handle on a situation that they knew, I suspect, was going to be explosive. I think since — particularly since the emergence of the e-mail last week, their response has been quite vigorous. And I think even some folks who were concerned about their response early on have felt they're being more proactive with the appointment of some study committees to look at the underlying issues.

    At the same time, I know that they feel pressure from multiple sides themselves. I suspect, although I don't know know it, that if I were a parent of a lacrosse player I'd be feeling differently about the university's response than if I were perhaps the parent of an African- American student on campus.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Remind us again about that e-mail, exactly what its contents were.

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    Sure, the e-mail that surfaced last week had been the result of a — actually had been the reason for a sealed search warrant. And we had actually had gone to court or were prepared to go to court — hopefully, won without it — to open that file.

    And what it displayed was they had searched a dorm room on campus because of an e-mail that had been brought to the authority's attention in which one of the lacrosse players who had been at the party only a half hour or so previous to this e-mail threatened to — said he would have another party that night and threatened essentially to kill and to strip strippers who were there. And there were some other sort of graphic sexual references in the e-mail.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    How important is Duke in the community at large, in Durham and its environs?

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    Tremendously important.

    In some ways, it's the reason for Durham being what it is. It's one of the reasons that the Research Triangle Park is in Durham County and it forms the research triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. It's the largest employer by a factor of probably two and a half.

    It brings national acclaim sometimes for basketball, sometimes for its academics and research to the community. It has — its employees are involved in any number of areas.

    It employs people ranging from Nobel laureates to folks who clean the floors and pick up the trash on campus, and many of those in the service jobs happen to be African-American. It's one of the reasons I think some folks in the African-American community sometimes look with concern on what they may see as labor practices they're not fond of.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So as this begins to unfold, what has to happen next?

    Or what is expected, the next shoe that is expected to drop?

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    Well, I think the next shoe is probably going to be some result of a second test of the DNA, which the district attorney first mentioned — we reported first this morning, which the district attorney confirmed during their forum at North Carolina Central today.

    We'll see what happens with that. He hinted, although it's unclear whether he said with absolute certainty, that they may have the identification of at least one suspect.

    I think as those pictures emerge, if there is a second DNA report, if there is in fact the identification of one or more suspects, we'll just have to wait and see what the district attorney does at this point.

    He's three weeks away from a primary election. I'm sure that adds to some of the sense of, if not urgency, at least some of the sense of pressure he must be feeling on this.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You say there's politics involved into some of this?

  • BOB ASHLEY:

    I wouldn't suggest that.

    All I'm suggesting is that there is a primary election three weeks away. And I think that that's — and anybody in his position has got to be, whether he's mindful of it or not, others are mindful of the fact that an election is just around the corner. That's got to be a difficult position. No matter what he does, I'm sure it's going to be scrutinized by at some point other candidates in the race.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes, okay. Bob Ashley of the "Durham Herald-Sun," thanks a lot for joining us.

    BOB ASHLEY, Editor, "Durham Herald-Sun": Gwen, thank you.