It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shatteredby Don Yaeger
Mike Pressler walked into the bottomfloor meeting room of the Murray Building and, as he had done hundreds of times over a sixteen-year career at Duke University, prepared to address his men's lacrosse team. Forty-six players sat in theater-style chairs, all eyes riveted forward.
It was 4:35 P.M. on Wednesday, April 5, 2006. The program's darkest hour had… See more details below
Mike Pressler walked into the bottomfloor meeting room of the Murray Building and, as he had done hundreds of times over a sixteen-year career at Duke University, prepared to address his men's lacrosse team. Forty-six players sat in theater-style chairs, all eyes riveted forward.
It was 4:35 P.M. on Wednesday, April 5, 2006. The program's darkest hour had arrived in an unexpected and explosive announcement.
Pressler, a three-time ACC Coach of the Year, informed his team that its season was canceled and he had "resigned," effective immediately. While his words reverberated off the walls, hysteria erupted. Players cried, confused over a course of events that had spun wildly out of control. What began as an off-campus team party with two hired strippers had accelerated into a rape investigation -- one that exposed prosecutorial misconduct, shoddy police work, an administration's rush to judgment, and the media's disregard for the facts -- dividing both a prestigious university and the city of Durham.
Wiping away tears, Pressler demonstrated the steely resolve that helped him win more than two hundred games. For the next thirty minutes, Pressler put his personal situation aside and encouraged his players to stick together. He also made a bold promise: "One day, we will get a chance to tell the world the truth. One day."
This is that day.
Pressler, who has not done an interview since the saga began, has handed his private diary from those three weeks to New York Times bestselling author Don Yaeger, exposing vivid details, including the day Pressler was fired, when the coach asked Athletic Director Joe Alleva why the school "wasn't willing to wait for the truth" to come out. "It's not about the truth anymore," Alleva said to the coach in a signature moment that said it all. In addition to Pressler, Yaeger interviewed more than seventy-five key figures intimately involved in the case. The result is a tale that defies logic.
"It is tough to be one of fifty people who believed a story when fifty million people believed something else," Pressler said. "This wasn't about the truth to many of the others involved. My story is all about the truth."
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THE PERFECT STORM
It was a postcard-perfect Monday afternoon in North Carolina on March 13, 2006. A brilliant sun was accompanied by temperatures in the midseventies. The campus of Duke University was peaceful and relatively empty with the arrival of spring break. Dukies, with the exception of athletic teams in season such as mens lacrosse, welcomed the reprieve. The city of Durham, meanwhile, embraced a new work week. Durhamites savored the crisp, clean air as they scurried around town and tackled their to-do lists. Little did they know the perfect storm had started to churn on the horizon.
The Perfect Storm?
Yes, thats exactly what would occur. Not a drop of rain would fall in Durham over the next twelve hours, but an extraordinary combination of events would devastate a prestigious university and a proud city, changing many lives forever. Not rain, not snow, not wind would cause this massive destruction.
The elements that produced this perfect storm were in a powder keg, just waiting to be ignited. That powder keg, located in the living room at 610 North Buchanan Boulevard, was packed with the politics of privilege, race, sex, and money. As the alcohol flowed, and music filled the air, the fuse was lit.
There was an explosion around midnight.
Duke University, ranked as the thirteenth Best University in the World in 2006 by the New York Times Higher Education Supplement, is extraordinarily picturesque. Grand Gothic buildings covered in warm, gold- toned brick stand high above the magnolia and dogwood trees that fill the campus. An aura of privilege and excellence surround the thousands of eager, bright students who pay an annual tuition in excess of forty-four thousand dollars and rush to keep pace with their demanding academic and social schedules. However, the university's beautiful exterior couldn't conceal the turmoil beneath.
People love to hate Duke. Though no one can pinpoint exactly why, everyone has a theory. John Burness, Dukes senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, believes it stems from the school's reputation. Once the darling underdog, Duke is now viewed as a powerful elitist. Its attitude, intellect, and wealth set an exclusive standard, similar to the success exhibited by professional baseball's New York Yankees. Most of the Ivy League despise the thought that Duke is trying to be something it's not: one of them. In the Ivies' minds, Duke is a poser, striving to emulate an image Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Stanford, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania spent centuries developing.
"I really believe that if this had occurred almost anywhere else in the country, it wouldn't have been this big," Burness said. "It would have been big, but nowhere as big as Duke. We are on a pedestal. I think the factor that put this one over the top, with all the other elements -- and God, it had all the other elements -- was that this was Duke."
Those "other elements":
Outside the "Duke Bubble," as many students call it, you enter Durham, a vibrant and growing city that can also be especially dangerous in places. It was the murder capital of North Carolina in 2005, boasting thirty-seven murders, the highest murder rate per capita. Though not all of Durham adheres to the poor, blue-collar family image the media portrays, nevertheless, its crime rate and poverty levels are alarming. The contrast between the surrounding community and the young, elite, predominately white Dukie is startling and cause for friction. The national media have described Durham as "a small Southern town where conflict over race and class dominates daily life." Even the Princeton Review noted in 2006 that "Duke and Durham have one of the most strained town-gown relationships in the nation."
Duke's president, Richard Brodhead, entered uncharted waters when he walked onto Duke's campus four years earlier. He was a shy, scholarly man from Yale, and big-time sports at the Division I level were foreign to him. Brodhead was unsure how to balance athletics and academics, a combination that Duke views with beaming pride. In fact, 10 percent of Duke's undergraduate students are athletes. Brodhead speaks in long, elegant passages and often quotes Shakespeare. His timid, calm demeanor is surprising for a man of such power. In the midst of this struggle to establish himself, he was forced to manage a faculty becoming more vocally radical in its political views. Brodhead had watched just a month earlier as his contemporary Harvard President Lawrence Summers fell victim to that university's more extreme professors and wanted to ensure he didnt suffer a similar fate. It was a balancing act that could easily tip with the slightest disturbance.
Mike Nifong was nearing the end of his term as Durham's interim district attorney. Despite the promise he had made to Governor Mike Easley, Nifong went back on his word and decided to run for the office. However, he trailed badly in the polls to a former colleague in the district attorney's office, Freda Black, who helped successfully handle the explosive and televised Michael Peterson murder case in 2003. As the gap between the two candidates grew, so did Nifong's desperation: He used thirty thousand dollars of his own money to continue campaigning. What he needed was a moment that would guarantee him free publicity.
Some police officers seemed to specifically target Duke students. Sergeant Mark Gottlieb had arrested ten times as many Duke students as the district's other three squad commanders combined. Students whom he had arrested alleged that Gottlieb occasionally used violent tactics and misrepresented the truth in court. Gottlieb arrested or incarcerated Duke students at a higher rate than nonstudents, even when they were accused of less serious crimes than the nonstudents, according to a news report.
Duke's lacrosse team had, in the minds of some, developed a reputation for living loud and large. Players were athletic, smart, and handsome, a trifecta that generated adulation and envy. "In the order of the social universe of Duke undergraduates, the lacrosse players ranked at the top of the dominance hierarchy," wrote Peter J. Boyer of The New Yorker. They tended to be the children of white, prosperous families, products of Northeastern preparatory schools, where the game is a fixture; after graduation most of them go on to lucrative careers in fields like finance...they were also known as enthusiastically social creatures, partiers of the very highest order. The team exemplified the Duke student body motto of "work hard, play hard," causing resentment on and off campus. The team traveled in packs and "got all the best women," joked former Duke lacrosse captain Matt Zash. Though many involved with the team would dispute the image, Baltimore Sun columnist David Steel wrote, "It's a sport of privilege played by children of privilege and supported by families of privilege."
Add to this volatile mixture two African-American strippers -- with criminal records and wild imaginations. Kim Roberts, who went by the stage name Nikki, dropped out of college after two years when she got pregnant. She married the father of her child but was divorced soon after. After she took a job as a payroll specialist, her employers caught her stealing twenty-five thousand dollars. Embezzlement charges stood in the way of any future employment, so she began stripping. Crystal Gail Mangum, also known as Precious, was a North Carolina Central University student and divorced mother of two. It was known within the community that she had a history of mental instability and abused drugs and alcohol. In 2002, Mangum pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of larceny, speeding to elude arrest, assault on a government official, and driving while impaired.
The perfect storm.
On the afternoon of March 13, Duke's nationally ranked lacrosse team searched for ways to escape the spring-break boredom. Golf was a popular option. Many other guys spent the afternoon at 610 North Buchanan Boulevard, drinking beer, talking about women, and playing an outdoor game called washers. In this version, players tossed small washers underhand through holes cut into wooden panes the size of doors on the ground five feet away. When conversation turned to the night's entertainment, faces lit up. A few years ago the team unveiled a tradition of meeting at Teaser's Mens Club one night during spring break. However, players had run into a problem that threatened the fun at this local strip club: Some of their underage teammates were carded and denied entry in 2005. In what they thought was a stroke of genius, the players decided to bring the strip club to them. "The reality is that every guy that we know in every fraternity and on every sports team had had strippers to their house," one player said. "We thought, 'Whats the downside?' We could control what we got. The thinking was we needed to control the atmosphere."
The elements began to spin.
In this age of instant access, there's no need to flip through Durham's 151-page telephone book to find live entertainment. The Internet was easier. Only a few keystrokes were needed to find escort services and dancers on yellowpages.com. Among the first to pop up: Allure Escort Services. No one knew, when one of the team's four lacrosse captains, Dan Flannery, made the call, using the name Dan Flannigan, that his afternoon call would ring in the ghetto of East Durham. "The address is actually an out-of-service gas station on some random street," senior lacrosse captain Matt Zash recalls. "It's just a front. It doesn't even exist. It's just someone with a cell phone that has a network of girls that he can call up."
After first dialing a number that was out of order, Flannery punched in the telephone number for Allure Escort Services in his cellular phone at 2:00 P.M. He had a connection. A ring followed. Flannery explained he was looking for entertainment for a party.
"What do you want?" the woman from Allure Escort Services asked.
"What do you mean?" Flannery replied, unsure of striptease etiquette in his first call for such a request.
"How many girls do you need?" she responded, impatiently.
"I need two for this party, possibly twenty or thirty guys," Flannery answered.
The woman said it wasn't a problem and she would call Flannery back in ten minutes to tell him what she had available for the party that night. As scheduled, Flannery's cell phone rang. It was the woman from Allure Escort Services.
"I've got two girls that would be perfect for a group like yours," said the woman, who recited their measurements and added they were comfortable dancing at parties of this size.
"One is Hispanic and one has brown hair with blond highlights."
That's fine, Flannery thought.
Visions of two beautiful, curvy, tanned girls dancing sensually with vertical poles, moving their bodies to the beat of the music, filled the players' minds. The seniors were so convinced that attractive women were due to arrive that they assigned freshmen the chore of cleaning up the living room -- running the vacuum, taking out trash, straightening up the furniture -- so as not to offend their guests. Some of the older players had been to off-campus parties with strippers, saying the scene had been fun and appropriate. Many others had never seen strippers at all, much less up close and personal. Though some in the group were apprehensive about the late-night show, the wheels were in motion. The party was set. The strippers were to come to a house just off the edge of Duke's East Campus, a house that served as the de facto gathering place for the fraternity that was Duke lacrosse: 610 North Buchanan Boulevard.
Underage drinking had once been an extracurricular activity the Duke administration treated with a wink and smile. But several years ago, then Duke President Nannerl Keohane issued an edict that no alcohol could be consumed on East Campus by students. Keg parties were allowed on West Campus, where older students lived, but revelers had to buy the keg from university catering (Keohane jacked up keg prices to make it less appealing), and the beer had to be served by campus bartenders (even more expensive) who checked everyone's IDs, effectively making drinking on- campus so unappealing to most students that all parties were moved to neighborhoods on the edge of campus. It was a decision Keohane felt was necessary to prove that Duke was not deserving of its growing "party school" reputation. (So well known was Duke's "work hard, play hard" student motto that novelist Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons is set in an oversexed, alcohol-crazed parody of Duke named Dupont University.) The unintended consequence was that the off-campus parties further strained the relationship between Duke students and residents of the surrounding community.
Trinity Park is a neighborhood "where people walk their dogs and children play outside," Samiha Khanna, a writer for the Raleigh, North Carolina, newspaper News & Observer, told North Carolina Public Radio. "It's a great friendly neighborhood and everybody knows each other." Blue houses, yellow houses, white houses, and brick houses with sprawling front porches line streets that are separated from Duke's East Campus by a three-foot-high stone wall. When Keohane's policy of non-campus drinking went into effect, however, this wall suddenly divided neighborhood from university. Seniors from the schools fraternities and athletic teams, as well as other senior students, began renting homes in Trinity Park. Those homes would become the unofficial gathering spots for members of their groups.
The lacrosse team was just one of several groups that had moved its rowdiness and late-night parties off-campus. The white clapboard house at 610 North Buchanan, rented by senior captains Zash, Flannery, and David Evans, became popular with teammates and friends. Though they never threw parties with baby oil wrestling pits and dozens of kegs like some of their student neighbors, their home became the site of many "late nights," Zash admitted with a grin. Players from New York and New Jersey, such as Zash and many of his teammates, were accustomed to clubs and bars that kept music thumping and alcohol flowing well into the wee morning hours. When curfew struck at 2:00 A.M. in Durham, laxers (slang for lacrosse players) and friends knew where to head: 610.
An increasing number of neighbors grew tired of loud music in the middle of the night and the sight of empty beer cans strewn in their yards after the get-togethers. Jason Bissey was one of those Trinity Park residents. His complaints about the players, largely ignored before that night, would become significant.
After a quick visit to his home in Long Island, New York, freshman Devon Sherwood landed in Durham and caught a ride from a friend back to his dormitory on East Campus. Although a walk-on and the team's only African- American player, Sherwood was part of the tight-knit lacrosse team. "It's like, once you earn the respect, you are part of the family," Sherwood said. After ten that night, Sherwood's telephone rang and a teammate let him know there was a party at 610. Though the party had already started, he was in for a surprise.
The two strippers were scheduled to arrive at 11:00 P.M. The clock read 11:15 and only one woman, Kim, had shown, parking her black Honda Accord on the street in front of the house. Kim was in her early thirties, with chocolate skin and wavy hair. She wore tight blue jeans and a long-sleeved dress shirt. Kim had a pretty face, but an alternative lifestyle and pregnancy had aged her beyond her years. Though Kim was fully clothed, her stomach sagged under the weight of cellulite and her breasts fell deflated on her chest. A captain and another player met Kim on the back stoop. They talked about school and Kim smoked a cigarette while they waited for the other dancer to arrive. The player offered Kim a drink, and Kim responded "please." The player excused himself to fix the drink and, more important, alert the crowd inside the house of an important detail.
The player told his teammates that Kim, an African-American, was not what was promised by the agency. Most of the guys just shrugged, saying that was okay, and continued drinking beer from red plastic cups. The marathon party was prepared for its featured act. The carpeted living room had been turned into a makeshift dance floor. The furniture was pushed against the walls. Music played from an iPod hooked to portable speakers. Players had chipped in twenty to forty dollars each to cover the eight-hundred-dollar fee for the two dancers. "It was fine and great," recalled Tony McDevitt, who had arrived around 9:00 P.M. "Everybody was having a good time and it was under control. It wasn't loud or anything. People weren't like crazy drunk, people weren't breaking things."
Still, everyone started to get anxious when the second stripper hadn't arrived by eleven-thirty. She was thirty minutes late, so Kim telephoned her contact, Melissa, from the escort agency. Melissa informed Kim that the second dancer was on her way and should arrive soon.
Fifteen minutes later at eleven forty-five, Crystal Gail Mangum was dropped off by her friend Brian Taylor, who quickly left in his dark sedan. Unlike Kim, Crystal was dressed in uniform, ready to perform: a short, red, lace and glitter negligee and shiny white, patent-leather platform shoes. Crystals brown and blond extensions were pinned behind her ears to keep them from hanging in her face. Her noticeably large breasts had been enhanced through surgery. Bruises and scars covered her body. She was only twenty-seven but time and neglect had already conspired against her. A player who watched Crystal emerge from the passenger side of the car remembers, "Yeah, she didnt get out of the car the way I get out of a car normally when I'm not impaired," he said. "She didn't spring out of the car. It was kind of like a slow-moving process."
Kim said she met Crystal at the back door of 610. The women had never met before that night and worked for two different escort agencies -- Kim was with Allure Escort Services and Crystal was with Bunny Hole Entertainment. They introduced themselves to each other and began planning their performance. They entered the house and were each paid their four hundred dollars in cash in advance as agreed. At midnight, the exotic dancers emerged from the back bathroom, where Kim had changed into her outfit. They strolled down a short hallway and into the living room, where nearly thirty guys, some of whom were friends of Duke lacrosse players, waited for the show.
Kim began, shaking her hips like a pendulum to the beat of the music provided by the players. She later told police that the guys "hooted and hollered" as each of the dancers peeled off her bra. But the smiling and cheering didn't last long. Things began to get awkward when Crystal, intoxicated and on a powerful muscle relaxant, repeatedly tripped and stumbled over Kim. Kim later recalled giving her a look during the performance like, "C'mon, girl, whats going on?," but got no response.
At one point, Crystal -- barely able to stand, much less put on a show -- tumbled to the floor. While that was not a rare sight, according to Yolanda Haynes, the former manager of the Platinum Club, where Crystal frequently worked, this badly choreographed dance only aroused suspicion and disappointment among the players. With Crystal on the floor, Kim hovered over her partner and "they for some reason started mimicking oral sex," one player said. "We didn't ask them to. One girl got on top of the other one, and everyone was like...ugh."
The uninspiring performance led some, among them Devon Sherwood, to begin leaving. "They had no poles or flashing lights," he said. "They were just dancing around a group of guys on beat-up couches and carpets that probably hadnt been cleaned in ten years." Someone decided to help the dancers, asking if they had brought any sex toys.
"I'd use your dick, but it's too small," an annoyed Kim retorted.
That prompted a tragic decision. One player grabbed a brown broom handle and said, "Well, how about this?" That suggestion set the strippers on edge. A photograph snapped by a player showed an agitated Kim reacting and reaching out toward the players during the show. Kim later said the commotion had Crystal "riled up and irate," so Kim said she pulled Crystal into the nearby bathroom of the three-bedroom house and locked the door.
The five-minute striptease had ended. The show had not.
After a few minutes, one of the nervous captains became suspicious of what the women were doing in the locked bathroom, adjacent to the bedroom of one of the captains. One player said, "I didn't know what they were doing. I thought they were shooting up, doing something stupid." Desperate to regain control of the situation and get the strippers out of the bathroom, a player began to slip bills underneath the locked door.
At 12:14 A.M., Reade Seligmann, a sophomore Duke lacrosse player at the party, telephoned On Time Taxi and asked for a taxi to pick him up at the nearby corner of Watts Street and Urban Avenue. Moez Mostafa, owner of On Time Taxi, said in a sworn statement that he picked up Seligmann and another person on that street corner at twelve-nineteen, driving them directly to Wachovia Bank. The bank's security camera showed Seligmann withdrawing money from the ATM at 12:24 a.m.
Back at the house, the strippers finally emerged from the bathroom at 12:20 A.M. An incoherent Crystal followed Kim out of the back door. As they were leaving, Kim saw the player who had grabbed the broomstick and "loses her shit again," according to another player. "Kim ran to the car and I followed her," one player said. "I was apologizing to Kim and she was saying, "It's not your fault, it's not your fault."
Players, who had paid the dancers for a two-hour performance, were angry about the abbreviated performance. Bissey, a next-door neighbor, reported hearing players in the alley between the two houses, saying, "I want my money back." One of the players said, "I got guys that are pissed off because they got ripped off. I know we got ripped off and I was trying to do damage control here and get these girls out of the house. But I don't want the cops to show up in the middle of this whole thing and see all of us drunk and have this girl lie and say she was threatened or felt unsafe or uncomfortable."
One player approached the drivers side of Kim's car and apologized to the women, asking them to come back into the house to collect their belongings. Crystal had left her purse in the bathroom and a shoe in the living room. "I wasn't trying to get them back in the house to dance," the player said. "I just wanted to calm them down so the cops wouldnt come. We were worried about getting cited for having guys drinking underage."
Crystal got out of the car, made her way down the alley next to the house, and stumbled up the back doorstep. She stepped in and grabbed her purse from the bathroom, which was three feet from the back door. She also grabbed Dave Evans's shaving kit. As she stepped back outside, players locked the doors and wouldn't allow her back in.
Crystal began pounding on the back door and reached into her purse to grab her phone. And, at 12:26 A.M., she made a call to Centerfold Escorts, another service with which she worked. Drunk and confused, Crystal stood at the top of the steps for a moment, trying to decide what to do. She smiled at a player who was standing in the driveway and snapping photographs. Then she lost her balance. Crystal's hands slowly reached for the iron railing, to no avail. She tumbled down, adding even more scratches and bruises to her tattered body. The fall didn't really hurt her, but embarrassment and muscle relaxants made it difficult for her to get up. She lay at the bottom of the stairs, pretending to be passed out, until one of the players left to get help from her dancing partner. "I go back and she's not moving and I am like, 'Holy shit, this girl's going to OD [overdose] on my back porch and die, and now we're really fucked," a player said.
Kim later said to police she told Flannery,"...If they could get her [Crystal] to my car, I would get her out of their hair." Flannery agreed, helping Crystal up and leaning her against his shoulder as he made his way to Kim's car. The player-turned-photographer, once again documenting the bizarre events, snapped a shot of a disoriented Crystal being placed into Kim's vehicle at 12:41 A.M.
As the women were preparing to drive away, one player, still upset by his monetary losses, made a comment about Kim's appearance. Kim, enraged and defensive, called him a "little-dick white boy, who probably couldn't get it on his own and had to pay for it."
The player countered with, "Tell your grandfather I said thanks for my cotton shirt."
That was it. The elements had collided.
At 12:53 A.M., the perfect storm, involving sex, race, class, politics, and lies, was set in motion when Kim Roberts grabbed her cell phone and dialed the fateful numbers: 911.
Copyright © 2007 by Don Yaeger
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