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April 10, 2006
Jumping To Conclusions Is Not Good Exercise, Even For The Media

Last week, I wrote about bloggers jumping to conclusions. This week, we have an example of what happens when the media jumps to conclusions. When allegations of gang rape and assault got leveled at the Duke University lacrosse team, the assumption in the media was that some of the men on the team were guilty of the charges. Now, however, DNA evidence shows that the semen found in and on the woman at the center of the allegations does not match anyone on the team:

DNA testing failed to connect any members of the Duke University lacrosse team to the alleged rape of a stripper, attorneys for the athletes said Monday.

Citing DNA test results delivered by the state crime lab to police and prosecutors a few hours earlier, the attorneys said the test results prove their clients did not sexually assault and beat a stripper hired to perform at a March 13 team party. ...

The alleged victim, a 27-year-old student at a nearby college, told police she and another woman were hired to dance at the party. The woman told police that three men at the party dragged her into a bathroom, choked her, raped her and sodomized her.

Authorities ordered 46 of the 47 players on Duke's lacrosse team to submit DNA samples to investigators. Because the woman said her attackers were white, the team's sole black player was not tested.

District Attorney Mike Nifong stopped speaking with reporters last week after initially talking openly about the case, including stating publicly that he was confident a crime occurred. He went on to say he would have other evidence to make his case should the DNA analysis prove inconclusive or fail to match a member of the team.

The DA has now learned a valuable lesson about jumping to conclusions as well. It's best to allow investigators to actually investigate charges before proclaiming the accused guilty and building up a story about racism and classism at Duke and the neighboring Durham area. In order to charge people with a crime, we expect that the government will have evidence that a crime has been committed and that the accused committed it.

On the other hand, this does not necessarily close the case, either. If the woman was indeed raped, and the medical examination appeared to support a conclusion of some sort of assault, then police still have some checking to do. They collected semen from the woman, and that had to come from someone. If it wasn't the men at the party, then the woman making the allegations needs to answer more questions about anyone else with whom she may have had sexual intercourse. It also could have come from another attendee at the party, one that the team may not have revealed.

Too many people jumped to the conclusion that the Duke players were innocent. Let's not jump to the conclusion that the woman lied about the assault. The police and prosecutors need to stop posing for the media and focus on finding the truth -- and the media needs to quit sensationalizing this story until the story becomes much more clear.

NOTE: The best coverage of this incident in the blogs has been Jeralynn's at TalkLeft. LaShawn Barber mentions the T-word in her reaction to the news ... Tawana. Mary Katherine notes that the local papers are claiming some photos show bruising and scraping on the woman before her arrival at the Duke party.

UPDATE: Commenters are noting that semen wasn't found on the woman, but that they swabbed several areas of her body looking for trace evidence of any assault. The lack of semen could have been explained by the use of condoms, and the investigators also wanted to see if they could find traces of latex. The news release did not report whether they succeeded in that part of the labwork.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 10, 2006 6:47 PM

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