Duke: Students accused of attack able to return


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke University said Wednesday that two of the lacrosse players charged with sexually assaulting a stripper have been invited to return to school while they await trial and are eligible to rejoin the team.

Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann had been barred from attending class during the fall semester while their case made its way through court. A third player, Dave Evans, graduated in May, the day before he was charged.

Lawyers for Seligmann and Finnerty said their clients were still making up their minds about whether to return. The spring semester begins next week; the lacrosse season opens in late February.

Rape charges against all three athletes were dropped last month, after the woman who said she was attacked a team party last March wavered on some key details. The men are still charged with sexual offense and kidnapping; they are not expected to go on trial before the spring.

"As circumstances have evolved in this extraordinary case, we have attempted to balance recognition of the gravity of legal charges with the presumption of your innocence," Larry Moneta, Duke's vice president for student affairs, said in a letter to Seligmann and Finnerty dated Tuesday.

"Now with the approach of a new term, we believe that circumstances warrant that we strike this balance differently. At this point, continued extension of the administrative leave would do unwarranted harm to your educational progress."

Both Seligmann and Finnerty would also be eligible to return to the lacrosse team, Duke spokesman Keith Lawrence said.

The university could still punish them if they are convicted of any of the charges, Moneta said in a separate letter to Duke's president.

"We feel that this is a very important moment," Finnerty's lawyer Wade Smith said. "This announcement speaks to Duke's integrity as an institution, to its mission, and to its belief in Collin Finnerty's innocence."

The defense is expected to ask a judge at a Feb. 5 hearing to throw out results of a photo lineup in which the accuser identified the players. Without her identification, experts said, District Attorney Mike Nifong may have to drop the other charges.

"By now it should be plain to any person who has any objectivity that the charges against Reade are transparently false," the Seligmann family said in a statement Wednesday.

Nifong did not immediately return a call.

The scandal last spring led to the resignation of Duke's lacrosse coach and the cancellation of the rest of the season for the highly ranked team.

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