Judge sends lacrosse player to court

WASHINGTON – A Duke University lacrosse player charged with raping a stripper in North Carolina was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in Washington on an unrelated assault charge from last fall.

The assault charge against Collin Finnerty, 19, could have been dismissed if he completed 25 hours of community service and stayed out of trouble, but a Washington judge decided his arrest in the rape case violated that agreement.

Finnerty and two friends are accused of punching a man after he told them to “stop calling him gay and other derogatory names,” according to court documents.

Finnerty remains free pending a July 10 trial in the Washington case. He could get up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted of simple assault.

Judge John Bayly also set a 9 p.m. curfew, ordered him to report by phone to court officials every Friday and required that he stay away from places that sell alcohol.

Finnerty nodded when the judge asked if he understood. A family priest stood a few feet behind him in the courtroom.

“This incident has been grossly mischaracterized,” said attorney Steven J. McCool, who is representing Finnerty, of Garden City, N.Y., in the Georgetown case. McCool said the media have unfairly portrayed the incident as a hate crime. He did not elaborate.

Finnerty and Duke teammate Reade Seligmann, 20, were indicted on rape and kidnapping charges last week. A 27-year-old stripper who had been hired to perform at a lacrosse team party March 13 told police three men raped her in a bathroom of the off-campus house. District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he expects to charge a third person soon.

Defense attorneys say time-stamped photos, phone records and a taxi driver’s testimony show Seligmann could not have been there when the rape is alleged to have occurred.

Nifong said Tuesday he has no plans to present charges in the lacrosse case to the grand jury at his next opportunity, which comes on Monday – the day before he stands for election in the May 2 Democratic primary.

“Even I would think that would look political,” said Nifong, who was appointed district attorney last year.

A handful of other Duke lacrosse players facing deferred prosecution – all for misdemeanor violations in Durham – may see the charges against them reinstated.

So far, Nifong said, that’s happened only to David Evans, a team captain who lived at the house where the party was held. But the prosecutor is looking at other cases involving deferred prosecution.

Evans, 22, was cited in separate incidents for a noise ordinance violation and alcohol possession. Nifong said he reinstated the charges because Evans knew there would be underage drinkers at the party.

“For a long time, we have treated deferred prosecution as a right,” Nifong said. “It is a privilege.”