DURHAM, N.C. – Despite pleas by attorneys for Duke University's lacrosse team, District Attorney Mike Nifong vowed Tuesday that he would continue to investigate claims that an exotic dancer was raped and beaten by some players at a team party.
"I have been criticized by both sides of this case," Nifong said at a community forum at North Carolina Central University on Tuesday, adding that he has been pressured to both drop the case and to slap someone with charges related to the alleged assault.
"I am trying to determine exactly what the evidence is that we have to proceed on and to assemble that evidence before anyone is charged," Nifong continued. "I assure you by my presence here, this case is not over."
On Monday, attorneys representing members of the embattled lacrosse team said DNA from the 46 lacrosse players tested did not match evidence collected from the woman who says she was raped.
"No DNA from any young man tested was found anywhere on or about this woman," defense attorney Wade Smith said Monday.
He said he hoped Nifong, who is up for reelection, would drop the investigation.
No charges have been filed in the case, but Nifong has said he believes a crime occurred at the March 13 party, which according to court records, was attended only by lacrosse players. The woman said her attackers were white, and DNA samples were taken from every white member of the team.
Nifong, who has said he doesn't necessarily need DNA evidence to prosecute, was calmly defiant at Tuesday's forum, attended by about 700 people on the campus of North Carolina Central University, an historically black school a few miles from Duke where the alleged victim is a student.
"My conviction that a sexual assault actually took place is based on the examination that was done at Duke hospital," Nifong said.
According to court documents, a physician and specially trained nurse that found the alleged victim had "signs, symptoms and injuries consistent with being raped and sexually assaulted" during an exam conducted after the alleged attack.
He noted that using DNA evidence in such cases is a fairly new phenomenon and until that procedure became common, police had to use "old-fashioned" methods such as questioning potential witnesses about what happened. He added that in 75 to 80 percent of all sexual assault cases, there is no DNA evidence.
"DNA results can often be helpful, but you know, I've been doing this a long time, and for most of the years I've been doing this we didn't have DNA," he said. "We had to deal with sexual assault cases the good old fashioned way. Witnesses got on the stand and told what happened to them."
He added: "The fact is that this case is proceeding the way a case should proceed."
Shawn Cunningham, a student at N.C. Central, told Nifong and Durham Mayor Bill Bell that he was angry with people who he said were blaming the alleged victim.
"The press has disrespected this young lady," he said. "You have minimalized (her) to a stripper and an exotic dancer. You don't identify her as a mother. You don't identify her as a student. You don't identify her as a woman."
The 27-year-old woman told police she and another woman were hired to dance at the party. The woman told police that three men at the party dragged her into a bathroom, choked her, raped her and sodomized her. The allegations led to days of protests on and off the Duke campus.
Bell told FOX News in an interview that despite national media reports of racial friction between white and black people in the town, "there's no racial tension as such in this community."
"What the media is trying to pretend is there's a lot of tension that might erupt in violence. I have no fear of that," Bell said.
Durham City Council member Eugene Brown told FOX News on Tuesday that the city's Trinity Park area has had many problems with the team's loud parties and disruptive behaviour.
"It's a small handful that demonstrate behavior that's not exemplary of any student, particularly a Duke student," Brown said. "This is the sort of activity that cannot be tolerated."
Brown said Duke had made "progressive steps" within the area to remedy some community issues, such as purchasing 13 student houses and turning them into family homes, but there is more to be done.
"This was a ticking time bomb and unfortunately, it exploded three weeks ago," he added. "There are no winners in this, we are all victims … we've been maligned in this and as a result, the conversations at dinner tables around the country are about what's happened here."
Robert Archer, whose son Breck is a junior on the lacrosse team, said that while it is Nifong's prerogative to pursue the case if he so chooses, it would be a waste of time.
"I know the kids on the team, and I know they're innocent. We knew it from the start," Archer said by phone from his home in East Quogue, N.Y.
Court experts not connected with the Duke case cautioned that the DNA results could make prosecution difficult, but not impossible.
"There's an old saying that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence," said Peter Neufeld, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic.
Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman agreed that DNA evidence is not necessary to win a conviction but said Nifong would have a lot to overcome without it.
"In this day and age, it's the 'CSI' effect," he said, referring to the popular "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" series on TV. "If you don't find the evidence, then maybe it's not the guy. In 'CSI,' they always find the evidence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.