Ten months later and it seems as though the Duke Lacrosse “rape” case is finally heading in the right direction, with both the defendants and the district attorney getting what they deserve. The three defendants, Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans, are no longer charged with rape, and the prosecutor, Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong, has removed himself from the case following ethics complaints. As for the accuser, she has changed her story so many times that she will never be considered a credible witness, and the DNA evidence has proven that no genetic material from any of the three students was found on or inside the accuser. To backtrack a bit, the scandal began back in March 2006, when the three young men in question attended an off-campus party held by the lacrosse team. Two strippers, one of whom came to be known as the infamous accuser in the case, performed at the party. Before long, the three students were slapped with charges of rape, sexual offense and kidnapping. The accuser claimed the men had forced her into a bathroom and assaulted her during the party. So why has the case gone on so long, given how flimsy the evidence is? Why did three young men have their lives ruined for what now seems to be an entirely unfounded, not to mention weak, case? And how did Mr. Nifong manage to stay on the case as long as he did, and why was the founding principle of our legal system — a defendant is innocent until proven guilty — so blatantly disregarded? The answers to these questions are numerous and frustrating. This cornerstone of our legal system was overtaken by the immense amount of attention paid to politics, class and race, and perhaps most worrisome, the excesses of tabloid journalism. It is naive to consider it a coincidence that Mr. Nifong was running for re-election for district attorney at the time the case cropped up and desperately needed the black vote that dominates Raleigh, N.C. It could only be expected that he would jump at the chance to defend the black “victim,” successfully attracting more attention to his own campaign and eventual re-election (he was reportedly sworn into office Jan. 2). To give a voice to a minority community — especially one that surrounds a wealthy and well-known university — is a great story. Those reporters and editors who began to question the way the case was being handled did not attack it as hard as they could have and should have, probably because they feared Mr. Nifong could not possibly be as sure of his case as he seemed unless he had something up his sleeve. But instead of being the watchdog — a prescribed duty that every journalist should hold in high regard — they let each impending suspicion slide, all in hope of an even better twist to an already “great” story. Furthermore, when the story first broke, journalists rightly saw it for what it was: an unusual storyline where the rich kids were the ones in trouble, and a lot of it. This guaranteed ratings and readership. But these very same reporters erred when they continued to report on the case in a way that made it seem as though there was no way these young men could be innocent. After all, that would have ruined the story. Story or not, the lives of the three defendants were undoubtedly ruined for the past year and for however many more months this case drags on. No, maybe their names are not as recognizable as other high-profile defendants like O.J. Simpson, but there will certainly be a big gap in their résumés they will have to explain, somehow, when it comes time to apply for jobs. Rich or not, white or not, these defendants were treated unfairly by both the legal system and the media. It is important that we remember this case in the years to come, and when another like it occurs — which it undoubtedly will — we must resist our natural instinct to go along with whichever story sounds the best. We must prevent race and class from marring the truth of a case, and hopefully, if we’re lucky, fewer lives will be ruined, and less of our time will be wasted. Emily Friedman ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies.