Exclusive: Battle Lines Are Drawn Over Duke Rape Charge

Attorneys for members of the Duke University lacrosse team are presenting their fullest accounting yet of what happened the night a stripper says three players raped her. The timeline--illuminated by photos from one partygoer's digital camera that NEWSWEEK has viewed--offers a preview of the defense strategy should indictments come as expected early this week.

At 11:02 p.m. on March 13, a group of partygoers, sitting on couches around the edge of the room awaiting the arrival of two strippers, smile for the camera. They're holding plastic cups. Above their heads, a Duke lacrosse poster on the wall reads it's hard to beat a team that never gives up. (Robert Ekstrand, who represents 33 of the players, used a forensics expert to establish the photo times.) The accuser is dropped off at about 11:45, about a half hour after the other (second) stripper arrived. By midnight, according to a photo, the two are almost naked on the beige carpet in front of their visibly happy audience. But by 12:03, the mood has turned: in a photo, the women are standing and the second stripper appears to be reaching toward the guys, all of whom have lost their smiles. She slaps one of them for suggesting the alleged victim use a broom as a sex toy, according to Ekstrand. Then both women lock themselves in the bathroom, Ekstrand details. The partygoers get nervous about what the women are up to and start slipping money under the door asking them to leave, says Bill Thomas, a lawyer who represents one of the captains. The women go out to the second stripper's car at about 12:20, but the accuser has left her purse behind; she goes back inside to get it, according to Ekstrand. A photo at 12:30 shows the alleged victim standing outside the back door of the house looking down into two bags with what appears to be a smile. She's wearing only her scant red-and-white outfit and one shoe. By the time she realizes she's missing a shoe--a few minutes later--the guys have locked the door to keep her out, say the attorneys. A 12:37 photo shows she's lying on the back stoop; she fell, according to Ekstrand. Her elbow is dusted and scraped, and her ankle is cut and bleeding. At 12:41 she gets into the car, and one of the partygoers appears to be helping her. In a call to a police dispatcher at about 1:30 made public last week, one of the first officers to see the accuser, in a parking lot, said she was "passed-out drunk" but "not in distress." Since the release of the recording, Ekstrand has suggested that if any assault happened, it was after the accuser left the house. Defense attorneys said last week that no DNA had been found on or inside the accuser. She was never alone in the house for more than about 10 minutes, according to their timeline.

The second woman supports the partygoers' story, says Thomas, who says he has seen a summary of an interview with her conducted by a member of the defense team. "Their versions are basically identical," he says. But Mark Simeon, an attorney for the second dancer, tells NEWSWEEK that Thomas's claim is not accurate. "She rejects the notion that she agrees with their timeline. I've shown their story line to my client, and she says there's a lot that's wrong with it. From the beginning, she has been cooperating fully with [Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong] and the police, and she looks forward to testifying truthfully at the trial." Thomas replies, "She has given us several statements, so I don't see any room for her to change her story now simply because she has a lawyer speaking for her." Nifong could not be reached for comment.