District Attorney Mike Nifong said North Carolina's rape shield law lists "narrowly defined categories" under which evidence of an accuser's past sexual history is 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 claims 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 Friday 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 additional comment.
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.
Attorney Joe Cheshire, who represents a player on the team who has not been charged, said it was notable that authorities apparently decided not to prosecute the earlier case.