One of the Duke University lacrosse players charged with rape was in court Thursday as his lawyers tried to convince a judge why a cell phone found at the scene of the alleged crime last month should be turned over to the defense as soon as possible.
It was Reade Seligmann's first court appearance since his indictment last month. The sophomore was not asked any questions during the 20-minute hearing in front of a packed courtroom, and he did not speak.
His attorney, Kirk Osborn, urged the judge to hear the case quickly.
"We want a trial as fast as we can," Osborn said. "This young kid wants to go to school in the fall and he can't until this is resolved."
But Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Stephens gave no indication he would put the rape case on a fast track. The prosecutor has said he doesn't expect any trial to begin before next year.
"This case is not going to jump ahead of the line and be handled any differently," Stephens said.
A grand jury indicted Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y., last month on charges of rape, sexual offense and kidnapping involving a woman who had been hired to strip at a team party in March. A third player, co-captain David Evans, was indicted Monday on the same charges.
The accuser, a black female student at a nearby college, said three white members of the lacrosse team assaulted and sodomized her for about half an hour in a bathroom of the off-campus lacrosse house.
Prosecutor Mike Nifong said at the end of Thursday's brief hearing that he intended to try all three players together.
Osborn had filed a motion Wednesday seeking additional evidence. He also argued in court for the release of all evidence prosecutors have collected. That includes complete recordings of all relevant 911 calls, police dispatch logs and evidence relating to past criminal charges filed against both the accuser and the other woman hired to dance at the party.
"That will enable us to see who she was talking to that day," Osborn told the judge during Thursday's proceedings, adding that an expert needed to examine the phone to see what information could be gleaned from it.
"Hopefully, the phone won't be tampered with," he added.
Osborn noted that the service provider canceled service on the phone the day after the incident. The phone, which may belong to the accuser or another exotic dancer who worked the party with her, was found by other lacrosse players who live at the house the day after she reported the incident. They turned the phone in to police after finding it on the lawn.
Nifong said prosecutors are not interested in the contents of the phone, such as the last 10 numbers called, but Osborn said that's information the defense should be allowed to see.
Stephens agreed, but said he wanted to review whatever information was retrieved from the phone before it was acted upon by lawyers for either side. He asked Nifong and Osborn to work out the details of charging the phone and having experts examine it.
"You two talk about how that be done — that is if you can talk," Stephens said, hinting at the strained relationship between Nifong and defense lawyers in this case.
Defense lawyers have complained that Nifong has been unwilling to see or hear evidence that may help exonerate their clients.
An expected discussion about discovery had been made moot before the hearing when Nifong provided the defense with a copy of his entire case file. Nifong said the file included 1,278 pages of evidence, two VHS tapes and a compact disc containing photos.
"The state is not aware of any additional material or information which may be exculpatory in nature with respect to the defendant," Nifong wrote in a court filing.
Stephens also agreed to defense requests to have all proceedings in the case recorded and ordered authorities to keep all of their notes.
Before Thursday's hearing began, Stephens issued a stern warning to those in the courtroom not to vocalize criticisms or negative comments during the hearing.
Members of the New Black Panthers, who were in the audience, had shouted derogatory comments — such as "justice will be served, rapist" — toward Seligmann while the suspect was heading into court.
"If anyone thought this was going to be a public forum in which someone can stand and speak, that is not going to be allowed … and I will put you in jail. Everyone else needs to understand that," said Stephens. "I will be talking, the lawyers will be talking, no one else will be talking."
Duke police prevented members of the Black Panthers from walking onto Duke's campus during a protest earlier this month.
Among the three lacrosse players indicted in the case, only Evans has spoken publicly about the charges. On Monday, he called the allegations "fantastic lies" and declared that he, Seligmann and Finnerty are innocent. All three players are free on $400,000 bond each.
Nifong has said he does not expect more indictments.
Finnerty also had been scheduled to appear in court Thursday, but a judge moved his hearing to mid-June after defense attorneys said Nifong informed them he wouldn't be finished with evidence discovery.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.