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The Duke Case: Innocent

The dismissal of all charges against three white Duke lacrosse players on Wednesday ended a year-long nightmare for David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty that began when an African-American stripper accused them of gang-raping her at a team party.

In no uncertain terms, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said his review of the case made it clear that they had been the victims of a troubled woman's false allegations and a rogue prosecutor's rush to accuse.

In two previous reports, 60 Minutes raised serious questions about the case, and now the three young men tell correspondent Lesley Stahl about the agonizing ordeal of being charged with a crime they didn't commit.

And Attorney General Cooper explains in new and explicit detail why the charges never should have been brought in the first place. Cooper concluded there had been a miscarriage of justice and with one word - "innocent" - gave three young men their lives back.

"We had heard that he might say, as we refer to it now, as the "i" word - innocent. But when he first said there's insufficient evidence to go forward, we were saying, 'Oh my God,'" remembers David Evans.

"Because he didn't say it right away," Stahl remarks.

"He didn't say it, and then all of a sudden, there's this crescendo, and you can see where he was going with his speech," Evans explains.

"I never heard 'innocent' because everyone in the room jumped up and starting cheering," Evans adds, referring to the moment State Attorney General Cooper made the announcement that all remaining charges had been dropped.

"We were waiting for it from the very beginning. And the moment he did it, I completely broke down. I don't even remember who I ended up hugging. Everyone was jumping up and down and we knew then that was when we got our lives back," Reade Seligmann said to Stahl.

"I feel, you know, weight off my shoulders, feel a lot better. Everything, you know, it still hasn't sunk in completely but I think I just try to remind myself that it's over," Collin Finnerty says.

The late Ed Bradley first talked to the students in October 2006; in January 2007, Stahl also interviewed their parents.

For Seligman, Finnerty and Evans it was, to say the least, a relief, after 395 days of hell.

"The possibility of going to jail for 30 years was very real. That was very real for us," Seligmann tells Stahl.

"And you thought about it ... have you seen yourself in a prison cell for 30 years?" Stahl asks.

"You know, I pictured how they'd react when they said guilty, you know, having jurors say guilty. And to know everything was taken away from me for nothing," Seligmann says. "And one of my biggest fears was that it would go to trial and that it would be a hung jury and I would be stuck in limbo for the rest of my life."

"It's almost impossible to put your head in a place where you know you didn't do something and you're accused and you can't get up from under it," Stahl remarks.

"You don't want to be there," Evans says, laughing.

And Evans says the whole experience was surreal. "I don't believe my life over the last year is actually mine. I mean it, you kind of see yourself on TV. You see all of these people talking about it. But when you know you haven't done anything it's so difficult to grasp with the fact. I mean, I'd be with some of my friends at a restaurant and all of a sudden one of them would be like, 'You're out on bail.' And I'd be like, and it hit me. And I'd be like, 'Oh my God,'" he says.

Their nemesis was Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, who pursued the case despite the absence of forensic proof, medical evidence, or eyewitness testimony connecting any players to a crime.

In exonerating the three young men, Attorney General Roy Cooper did something almost unheard of: he publicly and harshly rebuked a fellow law enforcement official, calling Nifong a rogue prosecutor who ignored the facts.

In his news conference, Cooper sounded offended and outraged by this whole thing.

"When we have a prosecutor who takes advantage of his enormous power and overreaches like this, then yes, it's offensive, and yes, it's my duty as the chief law enforcement officer of this state to call him out on it," Cooper tells Stahl.

"Now, there's a difference between a prosecutor who makes mistakes and a prosecutor who sets out deliberately to railroad someone. So are we dealing with a situation where someone was sloppy, or someone was very deliberate and malicious?" Stahl asks.

"I do not know what his motives were. Regardless of his motives, the result was wrong. What happened was wrong," Cooper says.

The case rested entirely on the word of the accuser, Crystal Mangum, despite the fact that she changed her account of the attack more than a dozen times.

Attorney General Cooper says he's appalled that Nifong didn't challenge her about that. "We can't see where she was ever asked the tough questions," he says.

"Ever?" Stahl asks.

"That specifically contradicted things that she was saying. And when our investigators and attorneys started interviewing her again, new stories came out that had never been told before that did not fit with the evidence. So we went in and tried to get all of it rectified, and the way it turned out it was much worse than we thought," Cooper explains.

Asked if Mangum just lied, Cooper says, "The people who talked with her, and these are trained investigators who have been around for a long time, a number of them said to me, 'I've never seen anything like this.'"

One of the things that stunned them was that the accuser came up with a new wild and vivid version of her central allegation in the case, the alleged attack in the bathroom. Here's what she said happened:

"She was suspended in mid-air and was being assaulted by all three of them in the bathroom. And I've been in that bathroom. And it was very difficult for me to see how that could have occurred. And then we got another new story," Cooper tells Stahl.

"Well, wait. Because it was so small or..." Stahl asks.

"It was a small bathroom. Yes. And you would've had to have four people in there in different positions that she was describing to us being attacked," Cooper says.

"Including up in the air?" Stahl asks.

"Including being suspended in mid-air. It was just difficult for any of us to see how that could have occurred," the attorney general says.

Cooper used verified, time-stamped photographs of the party to piece together a chronology: From the start of the dance, to her stumbling through the routine, to when she stopped. The attorney general says there was no opportunity for the attack. And he says the accuser also told a new story about what happened outside the house.

"She says that Reade Seligmann and David Evans pushed her out onto the back porch. And then all three of them went out and started kicking her and beating her on the back porch. And then there were ten other lacrosse players in the backyard who were assaulting her and pushing her around. And there was absolutely no evidence that any of that had occurred," Cooper says.

"Now, isn't there a photo of her on that back porch?" Stahl asks.

"There is," Cooper acknowledges.

It's a photo that was taken after that alleged attack and he says it speaks volumes about the plausibility of her story. "She was smiling on the back porch. It was a picture that our prosecuting attorneys and investigators said they would've had a real hard time explaining to a jury," Cooper explains.

The accuser also told the attorney general's office that at the very end of the evening, Dave Evans and Collin Finnerty took her to her car.

Cooper says that didn't happen, either. "We knew, number one, that Collin Finnerty was no longer there because of good, solid testimony. And we also had a picture of her being put in the car by an unindicted lacrosse player," he says.

A photo shows indeed that another player - not Evans or Finnerty - helped Mangum into her car.

Cooper showed her the photo. Asked what she said, the attorney general tells Stahl, "Well, I don't remember what the answer was for that particular picture, but it was usually - that that picture's been doctored. Or that just can't be true. Or Duke University paid somebody off."

"I mean, as you even tell us this, I feel a sense of sadness. Not a sense of outrage in a way about her," Stahl remarks.

"All of this was a tragedy because it should have been stopped somewhere along the line. Good prosecutors, we demand them to look hard at the facts, look hard at the law. We also demand them to change their minds if the facts so dictate," Cooper says. "Here, these contractions were clearly pointing to the fact that this attack did not occur. And it's disappointing and really outrageous that it was not stopped sooner."

Not only did Nifong not stop the case sooner - from the start he went on a media blitz proclaiming their guilt, enflaming racial and class tensions in Durham.

"I'm not going to allow Durham's view over the minds of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl in Durham," Nifong told the media.

There were demonstrations and death threats against the players.

"To hear people saying, 'You're a dead man walking,' and you can't turn around and protect yourself. The anxiety of this entire case was there every day. The chest - you know, you feel it in your chest. You feel your heart beating. You're always breathing heavy. It's just constant. And that's why it's so emotionally draining. Because you're always on the lookout. You're always, you know, waiting to see what's going to happen," Seligmann tells Stahl.

"To have people banging pots in front of your house ... carrying signs that say, 'Castrate,' 'Real men tell the truth.' 'Sunday morning, time to confess' and going out there and saying all these things before any piece of evidence had been presented is just mind-boggling," Evans adds.

Asked if it ever got the point where he was afraid to go out anywhere, Evans says, "It's very difficult to walk down the street, 'cause you might casually look at someone, right? Just walking by. You just pass near, eyes might catch. Or you - but when they look at you, and it might be a casual glance or it might be something or, you kind of sit there and you get this chill down your back. And you say, 'Oh my God. Do they know who I am? Why are they looking at me?' And you start doubting all of these things."

Time and again throughout all of this they were sure the D.A. would abandon the case, starting when DNA tests a year ago failed to link them to the accuser, and as recently as this past December, when it was revealed Nifong had withheld the fact that there was DNA on and inside the accuser from several other unidentified men.

"You just knew that it was a train that was not going to stop, that this man had walked so far along the branch and he would not turn back around," Evans says.

"There was probably about 15 times during the last year when people would say, 'Alright, it's over.' You know, 'This is going to be done. Just give it a couple days.' And it would never happen," Finnerty says.

"Did you think hopeless?" Stahl asks.

"Yeah, hopeless, helpless. Didn't know what to do, how to help yourself or I had no idea what the legal system was going to do," Finnerty says.

Dave Evans thought the case against him would fall apart because of how the accuser had identified him in a photo line-up at the police station. She had told police Evans had a moustache.

"We had photos of the night before, the night after. No moustache," Evans points out.

He proved he did not have the said moustache but he says they weren't able to show the proof to the district attorney. "We could have proven, but he refused to see them, the photos. He didn't want to see it," Evans says. "And you just look and you're like, you can prove that you didn't have one and you've got all this other evidence. I mean it's, you can't put it into words."

Reade Seligmann had even more reason to be frustrated: He had a rock solid alibi. He had already left the house and went to a restaurant when the attack allegedly occurred, and could prove it with eyewitnesses, cell phone records and security-camera video of him at an ATM machine.

Seligmann says his lawyer tried to show these records and evidence to Nifong but that the district attorney refused. "He said, 'We are not in the mood to hear fiction.' We thought this was going to be over in days," he says.

"Because you had this solid stuff," Stahl remarks.

"Everything. Unimpeachable evidence. Things that you could not change. Things that you could not alter," Seligmann says. "We said, 'Here, he's going to believe us. He's a district attorney. Justice, truth, that whole thing.' And he wasn't interested."

"The lawyers tried to give him this stuff and he didn't want to take it," says State Attorney General Roy Cooper. "If you're a prosecutor and the defense attorney is willing to come in and give you information about the case, give you what they have, then you say, 'Yes, please come in and let me know what your case is.'"

"But we know he said no. What does that say about him as a prosecutor?" Stahl asks.

"Well, that was a mistake, clearly a mistake," Cooper says.

After his three-month investigation, Attorney General Cooper realized that the accuser was clearly mentally unbalanced. Records Nifong himself filed in the case show Crystal Mangum has "a long psychological history" and has taken anti-psychotic medications like Depakote and Seroquel.

"It was amazing how she could continue to tell different stories. And she actually believed the many stories that she told," Cooper says.

"Isn't it true, as we have heard, that last week she went into the police department under the influence of something?" Stahl asks.

"Our investigative team believed that she was under the influence of something," Cooper acknowledges.

"Alcohol or drugs or something," Stahl asks.

"I'm not sure that they know for sure," Cooper says.

"You did inform the accuser within this week that you were going to dismiss the charges," Stahl asks.

"Our team did, yes," Cooper says,

Asked how she took the news, Cooper says, "She was disappointed. She wanted to move forward with the case."

But the attorney general also announced he would not press charges against her for filing false police reports.

"Is the decision purely about her mental state or did you also take into account what this might do to this community which was already roiled in racial tension? Were you afraid that it would exacerbate more racial tension?" Stahl asks Cooper.

"We did consider it. We did talk about it. But we think in the best interest of justice, that it was not the right thing to do," Cooper says.

"What are your thoughts about her?" Stahl asks David Evans.

"I think she's a very troubled woman," he says. "We're not vindictive people. We don't want to take her away from her children. We hope that she gets help. And hopefully ... we won't have to hear that name ever again."

"What the attorney general said, that he is not going to pursue any charges against her, is that okay with you?" Stahl asks Collin Finnerty.

"You know, we went through a lot. And it's tough to, if no one has to pay for it, it's tough to imagine that that was all, you know, fine, nothing should happen. But I feel like something should happen," Finnerty says.

As for District Attorney Mike Nifong, he's now facing ethics charges from the state bar. He could lose his law license and may face an investigation for criminal misconduct.

Asked what he would like to see happen to Nifong, Reade Seligmann tells Stahl, "It's hard to put into words what you would say to a person that was trying to put you in jail for 30 years. And he caused our family so much pain and heartache for so long. And he did this to us. He tried to take away my name. He tried to take away my life."

"Should he be punished?" Stahl asks.

"Absolutely," Seligmann says.

"I can only imagine it's very difficult for him to go home and have go look his son in the eyes and have to answer the questions that he probably has for him," Evans says.

Asked if he wants Nifong to resign and be punished, Evans tells Stahl, "I want to give him the respect that he didn't give us. And he's got a legal situation to deal with. I'm not going to preach yesterday that it's up to.... The legal system determines guilt or innocence, and [to] go out here and say that he is guilty. I don't think that's right. And I've learned my lesson."

Nifong declined 60 Minutes' repeated requests for an interview. The day after the three young men were exonerated, he did issue an apology.

Collin Finnerty said, "Too little, too late."

"This has been a year of decision after decision after decision to keep doing the wrong thing. He's had so much time to say he's sorry over the last year. And now he comes the day after we're exonerated. I don't think anyone's going to feel better after that apology," Finnerty says.
"Let's say you had the opportunity now to look him in the eye. What would you say to him?" Stahl asks Finnerty.

"Why? Why? I just wish I could just get it answered - why us?" he says.

For the first time in a year, they're making plans again. Dave Evans, who's already graduated, was just offered a job on Wall Street. Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, who were suspended from Duke, have been invited back, but are applying to other colleges. They all want to put what's happened behind them, but it's not going to be easy.

"I'm angry at so many people, and there are so many people that I think need to be held accountable. But for the time being, I'm just so happy to get back on with my life," Seligmann says. "I want to, I want to move forward. I want to be back at school. I'm out for getting my name back. I want to have - I want to smile again. I don't want to have to be vengeful."

Asked if this is over, David Evans tells Stahl, "I don't think it really will ever be over. No matter what, you can try to move on, but rape will always be associated with my name. Innocent might be a part of that, but when I die, they'll say, 'One of the three Duke lacrosse rape suspects died today. He led a life and did this, but he was one of the three Duke lacrosse rape suspects.'"

Produced By Michael Radutzky, Tanya Simon and Shachar Bar-On
© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved

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