The Daily Gamecock

Attorney discusses Duke case

Defense lawyer explains famed lacrosse trial

Well-known defense attorney James Cooney opened the daylong USC School of Law symposium on wrongful convictions and prosecutorial ethics Thursday evening.

 Cooney became known across the country in 2006 when he represented lacrosse player Reade Seligmann in the highly publicized Duke University rape case, in which he managed to absolve the defendants and obtain a rare statement of innocence for all three accused men.

In the opening speech of the symposium, Cooney took the audience through the major steps of the case and explained the process he used to help expose the unethical prosecutorial actions of former Durham, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong and prove the three defendants, all Duke lacrosse players, innocent of the rape that was fabricated by escort Crystal Mangum.

"For the first time the public got to see how the justice system operates," Cooney said. "People did not like what they saw."

The case surrounds Mangum and the three athletes, David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, whom she accused of raping her in the lacrosse house in Durham. Prosecutor Nifong withheld and ignored evidence that would have vindicated the defendants, bringing the case to a screeching halt and leading to the eventual loss of his law license.

"It's crazy how defendants are bashed and hated during a trial," said Seth McDaniel, a second-year law student. "It was great to have Mr. Cooney here to take us step-by-step to show that a lot of these people are innocent and how they should be prosecuted."

Cooney relied heavily on technology to prove the innocence of the defendants by using the phone records of the three men and Mangum. He proved that there was no point during the 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. time frame — when the rape supposedly occurred ­— when at least one of the individuals involved did not make a phone call. This was the main piece of evidence that proved Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann never had the opportunity to commit the crime.

"The types of skills we saw tonight aren't those that you can learn in law school, and a lot of people don't even learn them in practice," said Sarah Rand, a third-year law student. "It was great to hear him go through and explain his process and why his clients were innocent."