Watch CBS News

The Duke Case

The Duke Case
The Duke Case 19:02

When Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong recused himself from the Duke lacrosse case and was replaced by a special prosecutor Saturday, it was the culmination of months of questions about the D.A., going back to Ed Bradley's story on the case last October. Originally, three white lacrosse players - Collin Finnerty, David Evans and Reade Seligmann - were accused of raping an African-American stripper.

Nifong was forced to drop the rape charges last month when the woman changed her story. The three still stand accused of sexual assault and kidnapping. Now, for the first time, their parents speak out together in an interview with correspondent Lesley Stahl.

And Stahl speaks to the forensic expert who changed the course of the case when he testified that he and the D.A. knew - but did not report - crucial DNA evidence that could help exonerate the defendants, whose DNA was never found in the accuser.

Dr. Brian Meehan was hired by District Attorney Mike Nifong to conduct DNA testing on evidence collected hours after the alleged attack last March. What Meehan discovered in his lab has undermined the prosecution's case because he found DNA on the rape kit and the accuser's underwear that belonged to at least four unidentified men, none from any of the lacrosse players. But when Meehan issued a report of his findings, he left out that potentially exculpatory information about the other men.

"You never stated in your report that you found DNA that belonged to men other than the accused in her underwear?" Stahl asks.

"I did not specifically say that," he replies.

"You never said that you found DNA belonging to other men in her rectum?" Stahl asks.

"No, I did not specifically state that," Meehan says.

Asked if that shouldn't have been in the report, Meehan says, "In retrospect, I know that there's a better way. And I should've done a better job at conveying that information."

"So, when you've produced other reports, if you have found other people who aren't suspects, you would leave it out of the report? Have you done this before?" Stahl asks.

"We haven't done that before," Meehan admits.

Leaving test results out of a report is a violation of industry standards, and of Meehan's own company's guidelines; the organization that accredits forensic labs has launched an investigation of his company.

"I have to tell you that we spoke to a lot of forensic specialists, people who do what you do and sex crime prosecutors. And they all say they never heard of anything like this - ever," Stahl remarks.

"I said it was an error," Meehan replies. "It was an error in judgment on my part."

"But a big one, right?" Stahl asks.

"Certainly, it was a big error," he replies.

Asked if it was his decision and his alone, Meehan says, "Well, it was my decision based on my understanding of what was asked in this case from when the case began."

At a hearing last month, Meehan testified that he and Nifong agreed to limit the report to "just the stuff that matched" the lacrosse players or three of the accuser's friends. After Meehan found there was DNA evidence from other unidentified men, he says he spelled out that information to D.A. Nifong in person and on the phone - before he completed his report.

"Did the district attorney specifically ask you to leave the information about the other males out of this report?" Stahl asks Meehan.

"Absolutely not," he replies.

"He knew the information was there. Did he ever ask you specifically to include it?" Stahl asks.

"That specific information? No, he did not," Meehan says.

"Did he ever come back to you and ever say, 'I need a second report with everything in it?'" Stahl asks.

"No, he did not," he says.

Asked if he thought Nifong was going to ask for it, Meehan says he "expected him" to ask for it.

The key here is that the D.A. was required by law to turn that information over to the defense in the first place. He didn't do that until a judge ordered him to six months after he learned about the DNA belonging to other men. What's more, during that time, the D.A. told the court he was "not aware of any additional information" which may be exculpatory.

Asked if Nifong was lying, Meehan says, "Well, I know that I told him. I sat down in our conference room and went over all of the information in this case with him."

Four days after Stahl interviewed him, Meehan submitted an amended report with all his findings.

There was probably nobody more shocked by Meehan's testimony about the DNA than the parents of the three boys who have been indicted - Collin Finnerty's parents, Kevin and Mary Ellen, David Evans' parents, David Sr. and Rae and Reade Seligmann's folks, Kathy and Phil. They were all in the courtroom that day.

"Well, while we were sitting there, and the information came out, and someone then, behind us, passed the note and said on the note it said, 'Oh my God. He knew this on April 10th.' And we knew that our boys had been indicted on April 17th. And Mary Ellen turned to me and said, 'I'm shaking so hard, I think I'm going to pass out right now.' And we had to hold on to each other," remembers Kathy Seligmann.

"But let me get -- you're saying that on April 10th, Mr. Nifong was told that your boys had left no -- ," Stahl asks.

"No DNA, not a speck," Seligmann says.

"But that there was evidence of other men. And days after he was told that, he indicted them for rape?" Stahl asks.

"Right, yeah," she replies.

Mary Ellen Finnerty says it was like a physical hurt.

"I mean, you felt like someone hit you with a baseball bat. It was almost too much to bear, as we sat there. And he's sitting ten feet away from us," Kathy Seligmann explains.

"He" is District Attorney Nifong, who has declined 60 Minutes' repeated requests for an interview. However, he recently admitted that he was aware of those other DNA findings all along and that his failure to disclose them was simply an oversight. Earlier this month, he rejected the growing criticism of his handling of the case.

"I don't feel I'm part of the problem. I feel I've assisted in revealing the problem," Nifong said.

But Duke law school Professor James Coleman has been outraged by Nifong's conduct for months and says he may have obstructed justice when he failed to turn over all the DNA evidence.

"So why do you think it wasn't turned over to the defense? Highlighted? Neon signs going off and on?" Stahl asks.

"Because it discredited her version of what is supposed to have happened that night," Coleman says.

Asked if he is now surprised, Coleman tells Stahl, "I was surprised. I never thought he would have intentionally tried to hide exculpatory evidence. That for me went beyond anything I would have imagined."

If it's found that Nifong's conduct was "intentional," he could face sanctions or disbarment. He may also face questions about why he didn't interview the accuser about the case until ten months after she made the allegations.

When Nifong's chief investigator finally interviewed her for the first time last month, she said she could no longer be sure she was raped, and so Nifong was forced to drop the rape charge. The accuser has also changed the time frame of the attack, now saying it ended about 12:00 a.m. midnight. But time-stamped photographs taken by a player at the party show her still dancing from 12:01 to 12:04. a.m.

And now she says Reade Seligmann didn't commit any sex act on her at all. And yet all three players still stand accused of sexual assault and kidnapping.

"My son said, 'Mom, when is it going to stop? When is this insanity going to stop?' Knowing that he was still being charged with crimes that he didn't do," Kathy Seligmann recalls.

"Yeah, so even at this moment of good news -- " Stahl remarks.

"Exactly. He said, 'That's crazy. It didn't happen.' Every time you think this is going to end, another crazy story comes up. And you know, to know that you can drop the rape charges, but continue on persecuting these kids. It just doesn't make sense," Seligmann says.

"I think that this is a case where a prosecutor got in over this head, got into a hole and kept digging. And then went from making mistakes to misconduct," Coleman says.

Asked what this says about Nifong's commitment to justice, Coleman says, "It says he's indifferent to justice."

Nifong is now under investigation by the North Carolina state bar, accused of dishonesty, fraud and deceit. The indicted players, who were suspended by Duke University, have been offered a chance to return to school.

When Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans were charged with rape last spring, they were all but condemned by the prosecutor, who called them a bunch of hooligans. You can only imagine what it has been like for the parents of the boys, month after month. With each new disclosure that revealed cracks in the case, they have thought the charges would go away.

Stahl spoke to them this week about the toll this has taken on their families, their anger at D.A. Nifong, and their disbelief that despite a lack of DNA evidence, questions about the accuser's credibility, and now the recusal of the prosecutor, their sons are still facing serious charges.

"You have to remember that this has never been about the evidence. Never. If it were about the evidence, nine months ago, this case would've been totally dropped. This is about a man who chose to use a troubled young woman's story of fantastic lies to advance his own political career, which was crumbling. He needed something big. He needed that magic bullet, and he shot it. He shot it at our sons," says David Evans' mother Rae.

"Every mother of a son in this country should be scared to death that this was so easy to perpetrate. All that it's based on is a woman's word and she's changed that story seven, eight, nine times. And we still sit here. Our families have been held hostage of this D.A., of this woman, of the police department," says Kathy Seligmann.

"It's important to keep emphasizing they still face sex assault charges," Stahl remarks.

"We don't know what our futures hold. Our children don't know what our futures hold," Seligmann replies.

They all had bright futures. Reade Seligmann was an honors student; Collin Finnerty was extraordinarily talented; and senior David Evans, a team captain, was graduating, heading for Wall Street.

But it all came crashing down with their arrests last spring. They were paraded in perp walks before cameras, their mug shots on the covers of national magazines.

"Who can tell us about the very moment when they heard that their son was indicted?" Stahl asks the group of parents.

"The day the indictment came down, we were sitting in the attorney's offices in Durham, and when I heard the news at first, I - frankly - I collapsed," Phil Seligmann remembers. "Thought I'd suffered a heart attack."

Once the indictment came down, from the very beginning, the players tried to prove their innocence, voluntarily going to the police and giving samples of their DNA.

Reade Seligmann had an alibi for that night - time stamped photos, which appeared to show he had already left the party before the rape could have occurred. Collin Finnerty also had an alibi, but the parents say no one in Nifong's office wanted to hear about it.

"I mean, to this day, no one has spoken to Collin and Reade, or asked them anything about their whereabouts," says Mary Ellen Finnerty.

"Mr. Nifong, actually never even spoke to the attorney. What he did is, he sent out a messenger, or someone who works within his office to say, basically, 'I have no interest in anything you have to show me,'" says Kathy Seligmann.

At first, when the accuser identified David Evans, she said he had a moustache, which he didn't.

"Our lawyers did try repeatedly to show Mr. Nifong that our son did not have a moustache the day before, the week before, the month before the year before. Or that he had it afterwards," says Rae Evans.

The case was fueled by racial tension from the beginning; the first time the boys appeared in court, they were jeered and taunted.

And the Seligmann's felt there was danger inside the courtroom. They say their son Reade got a death threat.

"I had people standing behind me telling me that 'He's not gonna get out of this courtroom alive. You're not gonna get out of this courtroom alive.' In no uncertain terms," Phil Seligmann remembers. "'You're a dead man walking.'" ... This is in a court of law."

With no DNA inking the players to a rape, the case rests largely on the credibility of the accuser. Ever since she picked the players out of a photo line-up at the police station, she has given conflicting accounts of the nature of the attack, how long it lasted, and the number of men involved.

60 Minutes has learned that she has a "long psychological history" and that she had taken anti-psychotic medications like Depakote and Seroquel.

"When I'm trying to get over the rage I am thinking about, so deeply, this young woman who has been abused by men all her life. And nobody has abused her more than Mike Nifong," says Rae Evans.

While Mrs. Evans and the others are enraged at Mike Nifong, they are almost as angry at Duke Universiy.

When the case first broke, Duke cancelled the lacrosse season, fired the coach and suspended the three boys. But now that the case has begun to crumble, Duke President Richard Brodhead recently invited the two boys who haven't graduated yet, Collin and Reade, to come back to school.

"Are you now saying that Duke University thinks they're innocent?" Stahl asks Brodhead.

"What we are now saying is that given all the facts, and the way the facts have evolved, we think it is just and fair that the students be welcomed back at this time," Brodhead says.

"When you stopped the lacrosse season from continuing many people saw that as an abandonment of the players," Stahl remarks.

"That's right," Brodhead replies.

"And, in fact, others saw it as a prejudgment of the student's guilt," Stahl continues.

"It was not because we were making any judgment of the guilt of the students. The D.A. had said for a certainty a rape had taken place. He had 46 students under investigation at that time," says Brodhead. "In this circumstance, the notion that you would continue with business as usual in the playing of a sport was just completely implausible."

While the parents are grateful to Duke for asking their sons back, they say it's "too little, too late."

"We'd be hard-pressed to send Collin back to an environment where Mike Nifong is the newly-elected D.A., where the Durham police department is at his beck and call, where the leadership, the administration of Duke, when given the chance to stand up for our boys does not. It would be very hard as parents to send our sons back into that environment," says one of Collin Finnerty's parents.

It was in that college environment that the lacrosse team held that day-long party where there was heavy underage drinking and some players - though not the indicted ones - shouted racial insults at the two strippers who were hired to perform.

"When you talk to your kids about what happened, what went on, do you say to them, 'You should never have been drinking? What were you doing?'" Stahl asks.

"It was a mistake, that was poor judgment. But then what you need to do is separate that from felony charges, talking about moral questions. These are felony charges. And if they did make a mistake, even though they did what many other students have done, they have paid for it dearly," says David Evans, Sr.

"What do you tell people, with everything we've discussed, with the lack of evidence, the dropping of the rape charge, who'll say, 'Yeah, but something must've happened?'" Stahl asks.

"Something happened -- an incredible hoax was concocted that night," says Kathy Seligmann.

"But don't you think there were people who aren't going to think it's a hoax, no matter what?" Stahl asks.

"You know what? I believe you'll never change those people's minds. And what's so sad to me is, I almost get the feeling they're disappointed that something didn't happen," Seligmann replies. "You don't have to feel sorry for our families, you don't have to pity these boys. We'll be okay. What we're asking, for justice's sake, look at the facts."

Even if the charges were dropped tomorrow and the boys completely exonerated, the families fear their sons' reputations may never be repaired.

"I think that in this day of Googling people...if you Google any of these three boys, you'll get...reams and reams, and pages about this case," explains Kevin Finnerty.

"It will never go away for us or the boys. I mean, it might end. But it will have a lasting effect on all of us," Mary Ellen Collins adds.

"Last question. If Mr. Nifong walked in the room, right now, what would you like to say to him?" Stahl asks.

"I guess I'd say, with a smile on my face, 'Mister Nifong, you've picked on the wrong families. You've picked on the wrong families that you've indicted; you've picked on the wrong family of the Duke lacrosse team. You've picked on the wrong family of Duke University, and you will pay every day for the rest of your life,'" says Rae Evans.
Produced By Michael Radutzky and Tanya Simon

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.