Falsely accused Duke lacrosse players
by Robert A. Waters
The meta-narrative was rife with error, but still the media persisted: three privileged white athletes attending Duke University had brutally raped a poor black girl who just wanted to make a better life for her child. The few who protested this rush to judgment were branded racists, which seems to be about the worst thing you can be in this day and age.
Crystal Gail Mangum was the black girl. The fact that she was a stripper who had already run afoul of the law and had already falsely accused a man of rape was ignored.
Reade Seligman, Colin Finnerty, and David Evans were the white lacrosse players. Their anguished protestations of innocence were laughed away. Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, newspapers large and small, the administrators and professors of Duke University itself, the national true crime talk shows—everyone assigned guilt to the players because the case confirmed what they already believed. The white world is racist, so the meta-narrative reads, and black people are almost always victims of hate-filled whites.
On March 13, 2006, members of the Duke lacrosse team hired two strippers to dance for them at the off-campus university-owned home rented by several players. Mangum and Kim Roberts, another black dancer, arrived at about 11:30 p.m. Several players were drunk, as was Mangum. The dance didn’t go well, and the two hired girls left at around 1:00 a.m. (There had been name-calling between a couple of the drunken players and the dancers.)
As they left, Kim Roberts, who’d had enough of Mangum’s drunken outbursts, stopped at Kroger’s Grocery Store and attempted to get her partner to get out of her car. Someone called police at 1:22 a.m. “"There's a lady in someone else's car,” the caller said, “and she will not get out.... She's like, intoxicated, drunk or something."
When officers arrived, Mangum accused twenty lacrosse players of raping her. The responding officer didn’t believe her, and Roberts was incredulous. She claimed she’d been with Mangum the whole time, except maybe five minutes, and there was no rape.
Enter a prosecutor running a tight re-election campaign. Mike Nifong needed the black vote to win, and suddenly it seemed that a case had dropped in his lap that would seal the deal. He began making pronouncements to the media about the case, even going so far as to label the players "hooligans." His unethical and illegal statements to reporters convinced many that the players were unquestionably guilty of sexual assault, kidnapping, and rape.
Few in the media expressed any skepticism about Nifong’s accusations. Fewer still bothered to check the background of the accuser. And while she remained anonymous in news stories about the case, the photos and names of the three players were plastered all over every newspaper and television show in America. Eventually Nifong charged Seligman, Finnerty, and Evans--if convicted, each player could have received up to thirty years in prison. Even though it was obvious that two of the players (Seligman and Finnerty) were not even at the party when the alleged rape occurred.
While their rich white-boy status brought heaps of fire on their heads, it at least allowed them to hire a group of experienced, high-quality attorneys. Those lawyers were eventually able to rip the lid off the case and shine the light of truth onto a corrupt investigation.
Even as Nifong’s carefully orchestrated case broke apart, the media continued to attack the lacrosse players like slobbering wolves. Nothing seemed to be able to overcome the meta-narrative. Police fudged reports and timelines, Nifong hid DNA tests that exonerated the players, and the defense attorneys weren’t given evidence that proved the players were innocent.
By this time, most Americans could smell the stink emanating from the case, but the media slogged along as if there were no question about the players’ guilt. (It’s hard to admit you’re wrong, and most never did.)
Finally, the charges were dismissed. The State Attorney, who had taken over the investigation, informed the press that not only were they "not guilty," the three players were totally innocent. Many law enforcement officers, Duke administrators, and members of the media had their reputations shredded. Mike Nifong resigned and was disbarred, and lawsuits have been filed against many of the participants in the witch hunt.
Crystal Gail Mangum went about her life in the same manner she did before she gained infamy. After a fight with her live-in boyfriend, she was arrested in 2010 for arson, attempted murder, assault and battery, and several other charges. She eventually was convicted of child abuse, resisting an officer, and damage to public property.
On April 2, 2011, Mangum was arrested yet again. This time she was charged with stabbing another live-in boyfriend. The victim, Reginald Daye, died two weeks later and Mangum has now been charged with murder. Let’s hope that those who rushed to judgment in the Duke case will let the courts sort out the case.