SPORT

“I’m Broken”: The Duke Lacrosse Rape Accuser, 10 Years Later

A decade after Crystal Mangum accused Duke lacrosse players of raping her, she tells her story from inside prison

SPORT
(Illustration: Tara Jacoby)
Mar 10, 2016 at 12:43 PM ET

You know who Crystal Mangum is, even if you don’t know her name.

Ten years ago, on the night of March 13, 2006, Mangum and another woman were hired by members of the Duke Lacrosse team to dance and strip at a house party. Early the next morning, she reported to Durham police that she had been sexually assaulted by some of the lacrosse players.

The allegations riveted the nation. And then the case fell apart amid a series of inconsistencies in accounts of the evening and various unethical actions by Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. All charges against the players were eventually dropped. 

Mangum lives on in the public consciousness as one of America’s most infamous rape accusers. She is aware of this even though she’s currently serving a minimum 14 year, 2 month prison sentence for second-degree murder in an unrelated case.

“It’s so hard for me to share my story with strangers,” Mangum said over the phone from the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women. “I’ve had so many times… where I share my story and it got misconstrued or people made up what they wanted to believe out of the story.”

She maintained that she was assaulted on the night of March 13, 2006. She said that the incident was “humiliating” and she “was violated, and then there was nothing that could be done about it.”

Mangum also doesn’t believe she is to blame for the second degree murder of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, for which she was convicted in 2013. The state, she said, has “not [been] sympathetic to my experience of violence and the things that I’ve been through.”

That is possible given her past relationship with the law. It’s also possible that she’s in prison for defending herself against an abuser—a phenomenon that disproportionately affects women of color. It’s also possible that the jury simply believed the evidence against her was worthy of a conviction.

If Mangum has taught us nothing else about the judicial system, she has taught us how murky it can be.

“Right now, I’m broken,” Mangum said. It all goes back to when she was 14 and dated a 27-year-old man.

“I came to hate who I was. And I started to mask and cover up that person through a relationship with an older guy,” she said. “He gave me everything that I ever needed, that I thought I needed.”

But he was abusive, she said. From that abuse came “guilt and shame,” and “instead of admitting, ‘I feel dirty, I feel used, I feel worthless,’ because I gave my love to this man and he didn’t accept me,” she built walls, became emotionally detached, and slept around.

“I didn’t feel like I had the right to say ‘no.’”

It was this point in her life, she said, that “set up the framework for what happened on Buchanan Street.” (The house where the Duke lacrosse party happened is located on Buchanan Street.)

“So many times I wanted to say ‘no,’ I didn’t want to do things, I didn’t get enjoyment out of sex but I agreed to it. I actually consented to it because I didn’t feel like I had a right to say, ‘no.’

“And of course it was a boyfriend usually. I still didn’t want to and I still did it anyway.”

All “those experiences piled up, trauma kept piling up,” Mangum says, “until eventually it led to a circumstance where I did say, ‘no’ and I did put my foot down and things got worse.” She said this in reference to the Duke lacrosse case.

“So, at that point, I’m just like, ‘OK, I really can’t say no.’ You know? There’s nothing that’s off limits. It’s just like, I’m just,” she said, “available for anybody to use.”

Now she’s behind bars. She has been separated from her three children—each of whom are living in a different state due to family shuffling and state intervention—following her incarceration in 2011. She hasn’t seen any of her kids in two years.

“The system has torn my family apart. I feel like it is all a vendetta because I wouldn’t allow myself to be disrespected just because I was poor and African American and a woman,” she says. “That doesn’t mean that you can violate me and get away with it. I feel like I’m still getting payback for that, for standing up for myself and not backing down.”

In the deep Southern town of Durham, this case at first appeared to be one in a long history of white men committing sexual violence against black women. Many of the players were rich white kids who attended northeastern prep schools; Mangum was a poor black mother of two working her way through school.

The outcome, for Mangum, is not just that she is seen as a liar, but something worse: She is “The Liar.” You don’t need to know her story because you know of her, of what she represents.

Today, someone need only say the word “Duke” in a discussion about sexual violence and for all listening it invokes the specter of a false accuser who cries rape and ruins the lives of innocent men. The case is mentioned during sexual assault trials by defense attorneys whenever they can manage to work it in; a mere mention of “Duke Lacrosse,” even if ultimately objected and sustained, plants a seed of doubt in the jury’s mind about the victim’s credibility.

Mangum knows how the world views her.

“I don’t understand why people hate me and judge me without getting to know me or even understanding,” she said. “If I have offended anyone in any way with my issues, whatever the case may be, I apologize. But at the same time, I forgive. I forgive and I’m willing to move forward.”

For Mangum, moving forward can’t happen without looking back.

The morning after the Duke lacrosse party, Mangum filed a sexual assault report to the police and was taken to the hospital, where a nurse administered a rape kit and she was interviewed by law enforcement.

Ten days later, the police collected DNA samples from 46 of the 47 players, since only one of the players was black and Mangum reported that the men who assaulted her were white. The players all said they were innocent.

By the end of the month, the university had suspended the team and the story was national news. On March 31, the New York Times described the lacrosse team as “a clubby, hard-partying outfit with roots in the elite prep schools of Northeast,” who have “a sense of entitlement” and “surely brought the trouble on themselves.” Three days later, at neighboring North Carolina Central University where Mangum was a student, 250 students from both schools gathered for a vigil in her honor.

Duke University then cancelled the lacrosse season and the coach resigned. A search warrant affidavit revealed that a player on the team, Ryan McFadyen, had sent an email shortly after the party on March 13 saying, “he planned to invite strippers to his dorm room, kill them, and cut off their skin.”

Eighty-eight Duke professors published an advertisement in the school paper about the larger context of the case, stating, “Regardless of the results of the police investigation, what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism; who see illuminated in this moment’s extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday.”

Those professors were then nicknamed The Group of 88 and are still chastised by those who feel they overstepped their bounds by publishing the advertisement.

In mid-April, two of the players, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, were indicted by a grand jury on charges of rape, sexual offense, and kidnapping. They maintained that they were innocent. A month later, a third Duke lacrosse player, David Evans, was also indicted. He, too, said he was innocent.

Over the next few months, the defense repeatedly said that Mangum had changed her story and the prosecution changed their timeline. In October, with the case against the players falling apart in clear view of the public, Duke lacrosse was back on the field under a new coach.

Then, on December 22, Nifong announced he was dropping the rape charges against the three players but still pursuing the sexual offense and kidnapping charges. According to the New York Times, he decided this “because the accuser had begun to waver on crucial details.”

Nifong had long been dogged for his actions in the case, especially, “for making early outspoken comments about the case, setting up a lineup that violated police procedures, failing to interview the woman himself and sitting on evidence favorable to the defendants.”

In January, Nifong was then brought up on ethics charges by the State Bar, for “making prejudicial statements to the press” and “withholding DNA evidence that could have exonerated the defendants and then denying that he knew about it.” The Attorney General, Roy Cooper, took over.

On April 11, 2007, more than a year after Mangum reported the charges to the police, Cooper announced that all charges were being dropped and that “we have no credible evidence that an attack occurred.” He also said that “we believe [Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans] are innocent of these charges.”

Technically, the three had never been anything other than “innocent.” An attorney general does not get to determine if someone is “guilty” or “not guilty.” That is what a trial is for, after all.

Cooper blamed the failure of the case on “an ‘unchecked’ and ‘overreaching’ district attorney [Nifong] who had ignored contradictory evidence and instead relied on the stripper’s ‘faulty and unreliable’ accusations.” He never pressed charges against Mangum for false reporting, saying “his investigators had told him that the woman ‘may actually believe the many different stories that she has been telling.’”

In the end, under the law, no one was found guilty except for Nifong. In June 2007, Nifong was found to have committed ethics violations and was disbarred.

A year later, in 2008, Mangum published a memoir and for the first time publicly revealed her name. In 2010, she was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse and damaging property. Then, in 2011, she was arrested after fatally stabbing Daye.

Her defense during the trial maintained that she acted in self defense against Daye, who Mangum said was abusive.

When she stabbed Daye, who died 10 days later, she said she felt like because the judicial system had “automatically labeled [her] ‘the aggressor’ or ‘the criminal,’” she was bound to be punished harshly.

Mangum is currently working on an appeal of her murder conviction. She is getting help from a layperson, Sidney Harr, who is interested in her case and keeps an extensive website outlining her side. (There have been questions about Harr’s role in her case and his motivations; he has responded to those questions.)

Harr told me over email that he came to help Mangum through “my advocacy for former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Now, more than four years after working on her case, I am still trying to get her justice.”

She was convicted of Daye’s murder and sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of 14 years, 2 months and a maximum of 18 years.

The three men Mangum accused in 2006—Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans—all seem to be doing well. One moved on to a job immediately, the other two to new schools and then onto careers. They all sued Duke and the City of Durham in separate civil suits, settling with each. The latter settlement amounted to the city making a one-time $50,000 donation to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

Ryan McFadyen, who wrote that email about killing and skinning strippers, ultimately had to  change his name because “he had a difficult time landing a job because a Google search of his name would immediately reveal it.” He did change his name and landed a job.

Mike Pressler, the fired coach, was announced as the head lacrosse coach at Bryant University within months of leaving Duke. He and his teams have done quite well over the last ten years.

Duke lacrosse is doing great again under head John Danowski, who has been coaching the team since 2006. “Seven members of the 2006 team were on the roster in 2010, when Duke and Danowski won a national championship in overtime against Notre Dame. The Devils also reached the Final Four in each of the next four years, winning national championships in 2013 and 2014.”

Roy Cooper is still the attorney general in North Carolina. He is currently running for governor.

Mike Nifong remains disbarred. He filed for bankruptcy not long after he was found guilty of ethics violations. In 2014, a judge overturned a conviction in a case that Nifong prosecuted in 1995 because of misconduct on the part of Nifong.

At the Washington Post that same year, Radley Balko explained the larger issue around Nifong and the Durham District Attorney: “After Nifong was removed from office, Tracey Cline, his top aide, took over. She, too, was removed from office after a series of allegations of misconduct, including several cases in which she was found to have failed to turn over exculpatory evidence, just like her boss.”

The university and Durham continue to struggle with racism within their communities. There is a series of recent examples: a gas station attendant hurling slurs at black customers, a politics professor who posted a racist comment on an article about racism in Baltimore, a black student reported that a white student shouted a racist chant at her on campus, a fraternity threw a racist Asian-themed party, a Black Lives Matter poster on campus was vandalized with a slur, and a noose was hung on a tree on campus.

Last month, the student paper, the Duke Chronicle, reported that a parking attendant said that in August 2014, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask hit her with his car and then called her a “stupid n—-r.” The paper then interviewed twelve employees in the Parking and Transportation Services department, “who described the environment within the department as hostile and its current leadership as discriminatory,” including issues with “racism, harassment, retaliation and bullying.”

Ten years out from the night that triggered this series of events, Mangum is doing by far the worst out of anyone.

Mangum, for her part, hopes to attend college again one day. “What I really want to do is practice psychology and be a therapist or an abuse counselor.” she said. “Obviously, I can’t do that here.”

At this point, the odds of her achieving that goal are, at best, unlikely. She’s either a rightly convicted murderer or, as she said, powerful people within the system are working against her. Either way, she’ll be in prison for at least the next 12 years.

Regardless, she has become the symbol of The Woman Who Lies and Ruins Men’s Lives. This is a common cultural trope that says women lie about being raped because it will make them famous or get them rich or so they can score some kind of revenge. However, despite being the most infamous example of that idea, Mangum hasn’t benefitted from her accusations at all. If anything, she feels she was punished for speaking out.

Despite where her life has taken her, she remains culturally relevant because she fits an easy narrative about lying women and the impact of those lies on men. That narrative is the only one society will fit her into.

Mangum knows this; she sees it reflected back at her and she struggles against it. “It’s hard to get past the shame and the guilt and to be proud of who I am in spite of what I’ve been through,” she said.

“Because what I’ve been through is not who I am. So, how do you talk about what you’ve been through without taking it on as a part of who you are and for people to judge you as that’s who you are?”

She doesn’t yet have that answer.