WASHINGTON—Collin Finnerty, one of the defendants in the Duke lacrosse rape case, went to trial Monday in Washington on a separate assault charge stemming from a November altercation.
Finnerty, a Duke sophomore, faces one count of simple assault in the case, which is being tried in U.S. Superior Court in Washington. Prosecutors say Finnerty instigated an attack the early morning of Nov. 5, 2005, in which he and friends taunted, intimidated and threatened two men, hurling homophobic slurs and fake punches.
The prosecution rested its case Monday. The defense continues its case Tuesday after testimony from several witnesses Monday, including a Duke graduate and former lacrosse team captain.
In the Washington case, as in the one in Durham, N.C., alcohol is alleged to have played a significant role. Finnerty, 20, is not old enough to drink legally.
In Durham, Finnerty and two co-defendants are accused of raping an exotic dancer at a lacrosse team party in March.
In Washington, prosecutors say Finnerty and some other friends picked a fight outside a bar in the Georgetown neighborhood after drinking.
"The defendant, Collin Finnerty, and his friends wanted to fight," Rhonda Redwood, the assistant U.S. district attorney, said in her opening statement. "And they wanted to fight the victim, Jeffrey Bloxsom, and his friend, Scott Herndon."
Though the two men told the aggressors repeatedly to back off, she said, Finnerty and the others refused.
Finnerty's attorney, Steven J. McCool, said Finnerty was himself a victim, someone who didn't back from a fight when he should have, but who didn't start it, either.
McCool, in his opening statement, accused Herndon of hitting Finnerty in the back of the head. He later accused the witness of being a "hothead."
During the prosecution's case, both Bloxsom and Herndon described Finnerty and his friends as following them several blocks up a Georgetown street, then surrounding and taunting them.
When Herndon ducked into a bar for help, he said he came back out to see Finnerty lunge at his friend. Herndon said he grabbed Finnerty around the waist to stop him.
Bloxsom suffered a busted lip, but from another person, according to both the prosecution and the defense.
A defense witness, former Duke lacrosse captain William K. Gerrish, testified that he and Finnerty had a beer and a shot of Jagermeister together at the bar.
Gerrish testified that he and Finnerty were not heavily involved in the altercation.
But under cross-examination, Gerrish also said he tried to calm Finnerty down.
"I think Collin was fired up, but I don't think he was the lead dog trying to instigate the situation," Gerrish testified.
Gerrish left the group before blows landed, but he said he saw, from about a block away, someone hit Finnerty.
Among the defense witnesses Monday were two character witnesses: the priest who is president of Finnerty's high school alma mater in New York, and Finnerty's girlfriend's father, a senior vice president at Citibank.
In both cases, one of Finnerty's attorneys asked whether Finnerty has a reputation for "peacefulness and nonviolence."
"Yes," the men each replied.
In each case, prosecutors asked whether the character witnesses had seen Finnerty drink alcohol.
"No," they replied.
Also Monday, Judge John H. Bayly Jr. asked McCool about a report on the Web log Wonkette that Finnerty had been seen at a party with other lacrosse players in Washington on Saturday. That would violate Finnerty's court agreement.
"Wonkette doesn't know what it's talking about," McCool told the judge. Finnerty "wasn't in Washington, D.C., on Saturday."
The trial resumes Tuesday.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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