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Friday, April 7, 2006
Updated: April 9, 2:10 PM ET
Duke lacrosse players' attorneys step up defense

ESPN.com news services

DURHAM, N.C. -- Not content to wait for the results of DNA tests, attorneys representing members of the Duke University lacrosse team are increasingly pointing to other evidence they say will clear their clients of allegations that three players raped an exotic dancer.

Durham attorney Kerry Sutton contended Friday, for example, that numerous e-mails written in the hours after the woman said she was attacked at a house just off the Duke campus also bolster the players' claims that nothing happened that night. She declined to make those e-mails available.

Sutton, who represents team co-captain Matt Zash, said she thought the woman fabricated her story and "quickly got in over her head with the story she's telling."

A defense attorney representing one of the players said pictures taken at the party contradict the dancer's allegations, the Durham Herald-Sun reported Saturday.

The photos show the woman attempting to re-enter the house with "a big smile on her face," attorney Bill Thomas told the paper.

Thomas says time-stamped photos show the woman had bruises and cuts on her body when she arrived at the home -- before the rape allegedly occurred. Thomas declined to allow the newspaper to view the photos, but other defense attorneys associated with the case said they might soon make the pictures public, the Herald-Sun reported.

Officials are awaiting the results of DNA testing on 46 of the team's 47 members. Because the woman said her attackers were white, the sole black player was not tested.

The woman, a 27-year-old student at nearby North Carolina Central University, told police she and another woman were hired to dance at a March 13 party. She said they were subjected to racial slurs, and that three men dragged her into a bathroom, raped, sodomized, beat and choked her.

"We had sufficient evidence for probable cause to obtain search warrants in this case," police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said Friday. "And we are continuing to investigate it as a sexual assault."

The incident led to days of protests on and off the Duke campus, and some of the players have moved for safety reasons. On Wednesday, officials announced that one player had been suspended for writing in an e-mail about killing and skinning strippers, a revelation that led to lacrosse coach Mike Pressler's resignation.

District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he is confident a rape occurred.

Defense attorneys have also raised suspicions about a 911 call that came in minutes after the attack was said to have occurred from a black woman who claimed someone at the party shouted racial slurs at her and a friend.

Joe Cheshire, who represents co-captain Dave Evans, told reporters he is certain the call was made by the second dancer, whose identity has not surfaced publicly. The caller alternatively told a police dispatcher the pair were driving and walking past the house.

And while a third of the lacrosse team has been charged in recent years with alcohol possession and disorderly conduct, the woman making the accusations also has a criminal past.

In June 2002, police records show, she stole the taxi of a man to whom she was giving a lap dance at a Durham strip club. The records say she led a sheriff's deputy on a winding chase at speeds of up to 70 mph, and tried to run him down as he approached the cab on foot.

The woman, a divorced mother of two, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of larceny, speeding to elude arrest, assault on a government official and driving while impaired. She was sentenced to three consecutive weekends in jail and two years' probation.

Durham attorney Woody Vann, who represented the woman during that incident, said she made a mistake four years ago and completed her punishment. The woman has not returned several messages left by The Associated Press at her home in the past several days.

"She is keeping a very low profile," said Vann, who is not representing the woman now but has had ontact with her in recent days.

Some have taken issue at what they perceive as attempts to smear a victim of a heinous crime.

"I'm repelled and repulsed by those trying to equate her with Tawana Brawley of decades ago," said city council member Howard Clement III, referring to the 15-year-old black girl whose 1987 claims of being kidnapped and raped by police proved to be false. "That's awful. And, that just compounds the evil of this whole process."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.