Project 21 Press Release: Black Conservatives: Duke Rape Case Shows Importance of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

Today’s announcement that dubious sexual assault charges filed against the three current and former Duke students were dropped has members of the Project 21 black leadership network sharply criticizing those who used the year-long investigation to create racial animosity for personal or political gain.

“It’s absurd that a year of sex, lies and vilification consumed the lives of three young men now found to be wrongly accused of committing heinous crimes,” said Project 21 Fellow Deneen Borelli.  “It underscores the importance of the maxim ‘innocent until proven guilty.'” 

Duke students Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and the now-graduated David Evans, who are white and were member of the Duke University lacrosse team, faced charges of first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sexual offense.  These charges stemmed from an accusation of rape made by a black woman employed by a local escort service hired to dance at a lacrosse team party last March.

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, who was running for re-election when the case initially made national headlines, transferred the case to the office of the North Carolina attorney general in January under a cloud of controversy.  Besides the fact that the accuser said she could no longer testify that she was raped under the state’s legal definition of rape, two DNA tests could also not link the defendants to their accuser.  Furthermore, Nifong is now facing ethical complaints related to withholding DNA evidence from defense lawyers, “making misrepresentations to the presiding judge” and for making unethical statements to the media regarding evidence, testimony and the defendants’ character and credibility.  Nifong could be disbarred if he is found guilty by the state bar association at a June hearing.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper today said there was insufficient evidence for the charges and the case was “a result of a tragic rush to accuse and failure to verify serious allegations.”  He added, “we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges.”

“Nifong’s manic attempt to appease black voters he hoped would return him into office for another term shows his lack of propriety for the law he took an oath to uphold.  It empirically shows the descent of a man willing to betray the public trust by pitting communities against one another along racial lines,” said Project 21 Chairman Mychal Massie.  “It shows a man willing to disaffect and even ruin the lives and future careers of young men guilty only of poor decision-making.”

“The lack of concrete evidence along with the shameless, racist on-camera antics by Michael Nifong and the likes of Jesse Jackson takes us back to the days of Tawana Brawley,” added Borelli.  “They should be held accountable for their actions, especially when it comes to ruining the lives of young innocent individuals.”

Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992.  For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at

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