The three players are white, and come from wealthy families; the accuser is black, a local dancer hired to perform at a team party. Over the past six months, 60 Minutes has examined nearly the entire case file, more than 2,000 documents, including police reports, witness statements and medical records. The evidence 60 Minutes has seen reveals disturbing facts about the conduct of the police and the district attorney, and raises serious concerns about whether or not a rape even occurred.
Ed Bradley spoke to some of the key figures in this case, including Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans, who have never been interviewed.
"This woman has destroyed everything I worked for in my life. She's put it on hold. She's destroyed two other families and she's brought shame on a great university. And, worst of all she's split apart a community and a nation on facts that just didn't happen and a lie that should have never been told," says David Evans.
Evans was a co-captain of the lacrosse team and an honors student. He graduated from Duke in May and was headed for a job on Wall Street. Today, at age 23, he is contemplating a future much darker than he ever imagined.
Asked if he ever thinks about the possibility of a conviction and a long prison sentence, Evans tells Bradley, "Thirty years. I could go to jail for something that never happens."
Collin Finnerty, 20, a sophomore and one of most talented young players on the team, is under suspension from Duke pending the outcome of the trial. He says he still can't fathom why he has been accused of rape.
"I never expected anything even close to that happening. I never expected anyone to get indicted, let alone myself," Finnerty says.
The accuser had picked Finnerty out of a line-up. "It's unbelievable. Don't know how, why that happened. But, try to figure that out, I really have no idea how that happened," he says.
His teammate, 20-year-old Reade Seligmann could have played lacrosse at any university he wanted. He was recruited by Harvard and Princeton, but chose to go to Duke. Today, facing felony charges, he is not allowed to set on foot on campus unless he obtains permission from the university.
"Your whole life you try to, you know, stay on the right path, and to do the right things. And someone can come along and take it all away. Just by going like that. Just by pointing their finger. That's all it takes," Seligmann says.
The allegations rocked the city of Durham, and the campus at Duke, setting off angry protests by students, faculty and local residents, who denounced the lacrosse team. David Evans, who lived in the house where the alleged rape occurred, says he actually began to fear for his own safety.
"There were threats of drive-by shootings, acts of violence, assaults, people driving by Duke students and pretending to point guns at them and it was just very scary," Evans explains. "We moved out after the first day because there were mobs in front of the house burning candles, putting terrible things up, asking us to get a conscience, show character. It was terrible."
Police released affidavits stating the accuser's claim that she was pulled into a bathroom by three men and raped "anally, vaginally, and orally" while they "hit, kicked, and strangled" her over a "30 minute" period.
The district attorney, Mike Nifong, took to the airwaves giving dozens of interviews, expressing with absolute certainty that Duke lacrosse players had committed a horrific crime. His comments fueled explosive news coverage and fed public suspicion of the team, before much of the evidence was gathered.
"There's no doubt in my mind that she was raped and assaulted at this location," he said on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor."
D.A. Nifong referred to the lacrosse players "a bunch of hooligans" whose "daddies could buy them expensive lawyers." He played up the racial aspects of the case, but insisted that his public comments had nothing to do with the hotly contested election campaign he was waging in a city with a large black population.