DURHAM, N.C. -- Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested on rape charges yesterday in a scandal that has rocked one of America's elite campuses and raised explosive questions of race, class, and the privileged status of college athletes.
The two players are both graduates of all-boys Roman Catholic prep schools in the suburbs of New York City. District Attorney Mike Nifong said a third player could also be arrested but has yet to be firmly identified.
''It is important that we not only bring the assailants to justice, but also that we lift the cloud of suspicion from those team members who were not involved in the assault," Nifong said.
Lawyers for the two men assailed the district attorney for bringing the charges. Other lawyers for Duke's lacrosse players said the two were not present at the time the rape is alleged to have occurred.
Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y., are accused of attacking a stripper at a team party at an off-campus house on the night of March 13. They were charged with first-degree rape, sexual offense, and kidnapping and were released on $400,000 bail each.
The district attorney would not say what evidence led to the charges. But Seligmann's lawyer, Kirk Osborn, said: ''Apparently it was a photographic identification. And we all know how reliable that is."
Seligmann is ''absolutely innocent," Osborn said. ''He's doing great."
Finnerty's lawyer, Bill Cotter, said, ''The next jury will hear the entire story, which includes our evidence, and we're confident that these young men will be found to be innocent."
The case has raised racial tensions and heightened the long-standing town-vs.-gown antagonism between Duke students and middle class, racially mixed Durham. The accuser is black, and all but one of the 47 lacrosse team members are white.
Well before the scandal, the nationally ranked team had a reputation for a swaggering sense of entitlement and boorish frat-boy behavior that included public intoxication and public urination. After the scandal broke, the university announced an investigation into whether it put up with such behavior for too long.
The case has led to the resignation of the coach and the cancellation of the rest of the season. Duke would not comment specifically on any disciplinary action taken against the two men but said it is the university's practice to suspend students charged with a felony.
Both players are products of wealthy suburbs and Northeastern prep schools. Finnerty attended Long Island's Chaminade High School, where 99 percent of the students go on to college. Seligmann went to the Delbarton School, a lacrosse powerhouse in Morristown, N.J.
Seligmann, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, and Finnerty, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, were in handcuffs when they stepped out of a police cruiser at the Durham County Jail early yesterday. Their early-morning surrenders were arranged as part of a deal with Nifong in which they were bailed out of jail in a matter of hours.
At a brief court appearance, Finnerty stood in jacket and tie as a May 15 date was set for the next hearing in the case. Seligmann waived his right to appear in court and was represented by one of his lawyers.
The district attorney has said that the woman making the allegations, a 27-year-old student and mother of two, was attacked by three men. Nifong said he hopes to charge a third person, ''but the evidence available to me at this time does not permit that. Investigation into the identity of the third assailant will continue in the hope that he can also be identified with certainty."
Lawyers for the players have demanded Nifong drop the investigation, arguing that DNA tests failed to connect any of the team members to the alleged rape. They have also charged that the accuser was intoxicated and injured when she showed up for the party.
''This is probably the worst miscarriage of justice I've seen in 34 years of practice," said another Seligmann lawyer, Julian Mack.
Bill Thomas, a lawyer for a player who has not been charged, said that one of the two men under indictment did not attend the party. He would not specify which one, saying only that ''multiple witnesses and a commercial transaction" would provide an alibi.
According to a filing made by the district attorney's office, the residents of the house where the party took place told police that Seligmann was one of six players who did not attend the party.
Another lawyer, Robert Ekstrand, who represents dozens of players, said neither Seligmann nor Finnerty was at the party ''at the relevant time."