Duke University said yesterday that it has decided to welcome back two lacrosse players charged with sexual assault. But one player's mother said it isn't "realistic" to expect her son to return to campus while facing trial.
"We're happy that this is an option, but until [the case] is over, it's probably not a realistic one," Mary Ellen Finnerty, the mother of Collin Finnerty of Garden City, N.Y., said in a telephone interview. "He's not going anywhere until it's over. And this is nowhere near over."
Duke invited back Finnerty and Reade Seligmann of Essex Fells, N.J., nine months after they were charged with first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and kidnapping after an exotic dancer said she was sexually assaulted at an off-campus lacrosse party. The rape charges were dropped Dec. 22 because the district attorney said the accuser could not substantiate them. The other charges remain.
"We have decided that the right and fair thing to do is to welcome back Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty to resume their studies at Duke for the spring semester," Duke president Richard H. Brodhead said in a prepared statement. "Although the students still face serious charges and larger issues require Duke's collective attention, the circumstances in this case have changed substantially, and it is appropriate that the students have an opportunity to continue their education."
In a statement yesterday, the Seligmann family said it looks forward "to the day when he can return to living a normal life and continuing his education as a full-time student."
The family said it "would not rest" until Seligmann's name was cleared and "those who have been responsible for this injustice have been held fully accountable."
Seligmann and Finnerty would have been juniors this year. A third player, Bethesda's David Evans, also was indicted, but he graduated in May and, according to relatives, is working for a communications firm.
It appears the players would be eligible to rejoin the team. In October, Duke lacrosse coach John Danowski told The Sun that he would have no problem with their return. Paul Haagen, the chairman of Duke's faculty senate, said yesterday that Duke has a "presumption" that athletes can't play if facing criminal charges. But he said the rules permit an exception "and I would expect it would be made" if the players requested it.
Haagen said Seligmann and Finnerty likely would encounter little resistance from students or others if they opt to return to school.
"My sense would be that they would be fully accepted," said Haagen, a law professor who advises Duke athletes aspiring to turn professional in their respective sports.
"Whenever you've got a community that's this diverse - with this many views - I'm sure there will be people who think they did a jerky thing in having this party and will still focus on this. But I would think that would be a distinctly minority view - that few would have it," Haagen said.
The March party resulted in the temporary suspension of the men's lacrosse program. It has since been reinstated, and the season begins next month.
After they were charged, Finnerty and Seligmann were asked to leave Duke. The university said its practice is to issue an interim suspension "when a student is charged with a felony or when the student's presence on the campus may create an unsafe situation."
The players' reinstatement represents the second time in a week that Duke has seemed to close the gap between the university and the indicted young men.
Before last week, the university seemed caught between asserting the legal rights of team members and assuring the surrounding community that it was taking the matter seriously. Many in Duke's lacrosse community - family members, friends and supporters - expressed frustration that the university administration did not defend the lacrosse program more aggressively.
But last week, Brodhead criticized District Attorney Michael Nifong, saying the prosecutor has "an obligation to explain to all of us his conduct in this matter."
The North Carolina State Bar Association has filed a complaint against Nifong, saying he inappropriately made derogatory statements about lacrosse players to the media before charges were filed last spring.