One of the three other former Duke University students cleared of a stripper's rape and kidnapping allegations, says he plans to turn the experience into "something positive" and study law so that he might help others wrongly accused of crimes.
"I just think it is scary to think that in this day and age [that] in order to be innocent, you have to have pictures of you being completely in another area," Reade Seligmann, 21, said during an interview Monday on TODAY. "You need to have cell phone records to prove you couldn't possibly be in a house. You have to have an airtight alibi. What would have happened had I not had those things?"
Last Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper cited their accuser's continually changing version of events when he announced his decision to drop charges against Seligmann, of New Jersey, and his former teammates Dave Evans, 24, of Maryland, and Collin Finnerty, 20, of New York.
The three men were arrested and the entire men’s lacrosse program was suspended for the season following a complaint by exotic dancer Crystal Mangum, 28, that she was raped after performing at a house party on March 13, 2006.
Seligmann told TODAY host Meredith Vieira that the 395-day ordeal for him and his fellow Duke lacrosse team players opened his eyes to the power prosecutors wield and the possibility that many innocent people may be imprisoned because they lacked the resources to fight false allegations vigorously.
Seligmann turned down Duke University's invitation to return to his studies, hoping instead to enroll in another school and work toward possibly becoming a criminal defense attorney himself one day.
"I think the 'Duke rape case' will always be associated with my name, but I think it is up to me to make something positive out of that," Seligmann said. "I can either let that define who I am, or I can make changes. We can all work together and make positive things come out of this, and help people in the future who are falsely accused of crimes and prosecutorial misconduct."
That doesn't mean Seligmann is ready to forgive and forget the allegations and the actions of the accuser and Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, who has been accused of making false and inflammatory statements about the case early on. He has also been criticized for ignoring evidence pointing to the men's innocence before seeking indictments in the racially charged case.
"It was just a pattern that this case took. Every single time new information came out, it was always positive [for the defense]. And we just thought every time something positive would come out, it would be an end to this nightmare," Seligmann said. "It never ended. It just continued and continued, and finally last week we were able to get it over with."
Nifong issued an apology, but Seligmann agreed with the other exonerated men that the statement was too little, too late.
"It has been such a hard year. He has done so much damage to my reputation and to my family," Seligmann said.
"Do you think he should be disbarred?" Vieira asked.
"Without question," Seligmann said without hesitation.
Seligmann also isn't ready to forgive his accuser, Crystal Mangum, who told police she was working her way through school as a stripper and escort.
"There is very little you can say to someone who has brought false allegations against you. She's a very, very sad woman. She needs a lot of help," Seligmann said of Mangum, who is not expected to face prosecution over her discredited rape claim. "There is nothing you can say to somebody who has tried to take your life away."