(06/18/07 -- DURHAM) - Duke University has reached an undisclosed financial settlement with three former lacrosse players falsely accused of rape, the school said Monday.
"We welcomed their exoneration and deeply regret the difficult year they and their families have had to endure," the school said in a statement. "These young men and their families have been the subject of intense scrutiny that has taken a heavy toll."
Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans were indicted last year on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense after a woman told police she was attacked at a March 2006 team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper. Duke suspended all three, canceled the team's season and forced coach Mike Pressler to resign.
The allegations were debunked in April by state prosecutors, who said the players were the "innocent" victims of a "tragic rush to accuse" by Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong. He was disbarred Saturday for breaking more than two dozen rules of professional conduct in his handling of the case.
The players' families racked up millions of dollars of legal bills in their defense, and appear likely to file a civil lawsuit against Nifong.
Duke said it reached a private agreement with each former student after determining "it is in the best interests of the Duke community to eliminate the possibility of future litigation and move forward." Earlier this month, Duke said it had reached an undisclosed financial settlement with Pressler, who is now the coach at Division II Bryant University in Rhode Island.
The players said in a joint statement, also released by the school, they hoped the agreement would "begin to bring the Duke family back together again."
"The events of the last year tore the Duke community apart, and forcibly separated us from the university we love," they said. "We were the victims of a rogue prosecutor concerned only with winning an election, and others determined to railroad three Duke lacrosse players and to diminish the reputation of Duke University."
The announcement came the same day Nifong -- who said he planned to resign during his five-day ethics trial last week -- released a letter sent to Gov. Mike Easley saying that he planned to leave office July 13.
A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar concluded Saturday that Nifong had lied to the court, made inflammatory statements about the three indicted players and their teammates, and withheld critical DNA evidence from defense attorneys. After some administrative steps, Nifong will have 30 days to turn in his law license.
Nifong embarked on an unyielding push to bring charges against members of the lacrosse team shortly after the allegations emerged. He won indictments against Seligmann and Finnerty in April 2006, even though he knew DNA testing had identified genetic material from several men -- but no members of the lacrosse team -- in the accuser's underwear and body. Nifong indicted Evans on the same charges the next month.
In the midst of his investigation, Nifong beat two challengers in the May 2006 Democratic primary for district attorney and later won the office in the November general election. The disciplinary committee concluded his actions, which constituted "intentional prosecutorial misconduct," were politically motivated.
Nifong also sent his resignation letter to Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who is overseeing a pending request to remove Nifong from office.
"It is my fervent hope that this action will spare this community the further anguish a removal hearing would entail and will allow the healing process to move forward," Nifong wrote.
Hudson had planned to start a hearing "almost immediately" after the ethics trial ended. He said Monday he would have had to wait for a final disbarment order to go into effect, and by that point, Nifong's July 13 resignation date will have come and gone.
"My position is I'm not going to file anything tomorrow against Mr. Nifong suspending him knowing that he's going to resign on the 13th unless something unusual happens," Hudson said Monday morning. "Because he's going to resign, I think that's going to take care of it."
There was no word on whom Easley will chose to replace Nifong.