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Jury may never hear of earlier rape case, DA says

Duke accuser alleged an attack when she was 14

DURHAM, N.C. -- A jury might never hear about the rape allegations made to police 10 years ago by the exotic dancer who says she was raped last month by three Duke University lacrosse players, a prosecutor said yesterday.

District Attorney Mike Nifong said North Carolina's rape shield law lists ''narrowly defined categories" under which circumstances of an accuser's past are allowed as evidence. The court must hold a hearing to determine if the evidence meets those categories and to decide how it can be presented.

''In short, the jury that decides this case may or may not hear the 'evidence,' " Nifong said.

''The media are not bound by the same rules that govern our courts," he said. ''Their decisions on what to report and how they report it [can] have a substantial impact on the ability of our system to effectuate justice. That impact is often positive. Unfortunately, it can also be negative."

In the 1996 report, the woman alleged that she was raped and beaten by three men when she was 14 years old. Authorities said none of the men named in the report was ever charged with sexual assault in nearby Granville County, where the woman said she was attacked.

Nifong's office contacted Creedmoor police yesterday morning, seeking information about the incident report, said Mayor Darryl Moss. He and police Chief Ted Pollard said officials there are continuing to look for additional records, but have so far been unable to locate any other paperwork.

Relatives told Essence magazine in an online story this week that the woman declined to pursue the case out of fear for her safety.

A phone number for the accuser has been disconnected, and her father said Thursday night he remembered little about the incident except going with police to a home where he said his daughter was being held ''against her will."

The existence of the earlier rape report surprised defense attorneys in the Duke case, who have sought information about the woman's past for use in attacking her credibility.

''That's the very first I've heard of that," said Bill Cotter, the attorney for indicted lacrosse player Collin Finnerty. He declined to comment further.

Finnerty and fellow Duke player Reade Seligmann are charged with first-degree rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault and face a hearing May 15.

The accuser is a 27-year-old student at North Carolina Central University in Durham who told police she was hired to perform as a stripper at a March 13 party.

Seligmann's legal team earlier this week filed a motion seeking her medical, legal, and education records. The lawyers also asked for a pretrial hearing to determine if she is credible.

Yesterday, Cotter filed a motion seeking all material related to the case, including witness and defendant statements, tests and examination results, investigators' notes, and any potentially exculpatory evidence.

Joe Cheshire, an attorney representing a player on the team who has not been charged, said it was notable that authorities apparently decided not to prosecute the earlier case.

''These are serious allegations, particularly for a person that age. In my mind, it would raise real issues about her credibility," he said.

According to the Creedmoor police report in August 1996, when the woman was 18, she told officers she was raped and beaten by three men ''for a continual time" in 1993. She told police she was attacked at an ''unspecified location" in Creedmoor, a town northeast of Durham.

Asked Thursday if she was sexually assaulted, her father said, ''I can't remember." In an interview with the News & Observer of Raleigh, posted Thursday night on the newspaper's website, he said the men ''didn't do anything to her."

Durham police Officer Brian Bishop, who interviewed the accuser in 1996 while working on the Creedmoor force, said Thursday he had a vague recollection of the report. Reached yesterday, Bishop said he could no longer discuss the case.

Before Seligmann and Finnerty were indicted, attorneys for the players pointed to the accuser's criminal history when answering questions about their clients' legal troubles. The woman pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors in 2002.

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