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Duke Rape Charges Dismissed

Prosecutors dropped rape charges Friday against three Duke University lacrosse players accused of attacking a stripper at a team party, but the three still face kidnapping and sexual offense charges that could bring them 24 years in prison.

"Some people have said, 'Is the case over?"' said defense attorney Joseph Cheshire. "The case quite clearly is not over."

According to court papers filed Friday by Dunham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, the accuser told a prosecution investigator on Thursday that she now does not know if she was penetrated during the alleged attack.

"Apparently, for the first time ... attorneys from the district attorney's office talked to the accuser," Cheshire said at a news conference held at his office in Raleigh. "Why are they investigating the case now after they've brought it for months?"

No DNA evidence has ever linked the three Duke players to their accuser.

Lacking any "scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony" to corroborate that aspect of the case, Nifong wrote, "the State is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense."

Wade Smith, another defense attorney in the case, called on Nifong to "[D]o the honorable thing. End this case, because there isn't a case to bring."

In comments he gave to The New York Times appearing in Saturday's edition, Nifong indicated he is pressing ahead with kidnapping and sex charges that carry tough sentences. But Nifong told the Times the "case will go away" if the accuser ever says one of the players she identified didn't attack her.

Nifong says he's "not interested in prosecuting somebody that's innocent." He goes on to say that "until she tells me these are not the right guys, we're prosecuting this case."

Nifong gave the interview to the paper Thursday, before the announcement that the rape case was being dropped.

The accuser, a 28-year-old student at North Carolina Central University, has said three men raped her in a bathroom at a March 13 Duke lacrosse team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper.

The indicted players — Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann — all say they are innocent, and their attorneys have consistently said no sex occurred at the party.

"The only explanation for why the whole case wasn't dropped on the eve of the holiday weekend is that the prosecutor believes he does have decent evidence proving that the woman was sexually assaulted, even if she wasn't raped, and that she was held against her will during her time with the defendants," CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said. "That's a much easier case to prove than rape."

The defense attorneys have repeatedly cited a lack of DNA evidence in the case as proof of their clients' innocence, while Nifong had said he didn't need DNA evidence to win convictions.

Testing also showed that genetic material from several males was found on her undergarments and body.

CBS affiliate WRAL-TV in Raleigh confirmed last week that the accuser is pregnant and was admitted to University of North Carolina Hospitals. However, she is not due to deliver until February. A judge has ordered a paternity test on the baby she's expecting.

Defense attorneys have said for months that the woman has told several different versions of the alleged assault, and Seligmann's attorney has said she has given investigators at least a dozen different versions of the alleged attack.

The defense also has argued that the woman misidentified her alleged attackers in a photo lineup and they have asked the judge to prevent the accuser from identifying the players from the witness stand.

Cohen, who believes questions about the accuser's credibility make it increasingly unlikely that the case will ultimately go to trial, said that the dismissal of the rape charges is the "beginning of the end."

"This is the time in the prosecution's case when they should be gaining momentum," he said. "Instead, they're losing it."