04.04.11

The Duke Lacrosse Accuser's New Trouble

Five years after falsely accusing three Duke lacrosse players of rape, Crystal Mangum has been arrested after allegedly stabbing her boyfriend. David A. Graham and Eve Conant report on the former exotic dancer's tangled past.

Late Sunday night, a man called 911 in Durham, North Carolina, and told the dispatcher that his uncle, Reginald Daye, had just been stabbed in his apartment. When the dispatcher asked who had stabbed him, his nephew said, “ Crystal Mangum. The Crystal Mangum,” adding, “I told him she was trouble from the very beginning.”

The definite article—and the nephew’s warning—testify to Mangum’s reputation. Since she rose to national prominence almost five years ago, when she accused three members of the Duke University lacrosse team of rape, she has been a divisive figure for residents of the former tobacco town. To her detractors, Mangum, 32, is an unstable criminal, prone to dishonesty and violence and, according to an interview her mother gave to Essence magazine, suffering from serious mental illness. Her defenders say she is a young woman with good intentions who is a victim of bad luck and an unfair justice system. One thing is certain: Her arrest Sunday night is the latest in a string of tangles with the law.

Mangum is charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or inflicting serious injury and is being held on $300,000 bond. Anthony McCullough, a friend and neighbor of Daye, said the couple had been drinking at a cookout at Daye’s aunt’s house Saturday night and returned to the apartment early Sunday morning. When they got home, the two apparently began an argument about the rent that culminated in the alleged stabbing. Daye was taken to Duke University Hospital and could not be reached for comment Monday.

Victoria Peterson, a political activist in Durham, has known Mangum since the Duke case, which concluded with official declarations of innocence for all three of the lacrosse players. “Crystal is a very smart and very bright person,” says Peterson. “Many of feel she did not get a fair trial and that a lot of this stems from that. When a poor person is sexually assaulted by people with wealth and power, the cases go a little differently.”

McCullough said he warned his friend when Mangum moved in, noting the Duke case and her prior stabbing arrest as red flags.

On the other hand, Mangum’s arrest Sunday is her second for alleged attempted murder. In February 2010, her daughter called police, saying: “Please hurry. My mom is going to die.” Officers arrived at the scene to find Mangum fighting with her boyfriend. She had allegedly set his clothes on fire in the bathtub and tried to stab him, and she was charged with attempted first-degree murder, assault and battery, communicating threats, injury to personal property, identity theft, resisting a public officer, five counts of arson, and three counts of misdemeanor child abuse. But when the case went to trial, the jury deadlocked on the felony counts, with nine jurors convinced she was not guilty and three convinced she was. A judge sentenced Mangum to the 88 days in prison she had already served, and the felony count was dropped.

In 2002, Mangum was arrested for stealing a cab from a patron at a strip club where she was working. With her blood alcohol at twice the legal limit, she led police on a high-speed chase during which she nearly ran over a police officer before being apprehended. In 1996, she told police in Creedmoor, a town near Durham, that she had been raped three years earlier. But that case was dropped when Mangum failed to follow through on her charges, and her father said he believed the charges were false.

But the Duke case, in 2006, offered a combustible mix of race and class that brought swarms of national reporters to Durham. For Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, the case seemed to offer a compelling and painful narrative: Privileged young white men attending an elite university had raped a black single mother who was working as an exotic dancer to support her children and put herself through school at North Carolina Central University, a historically black college in Durham. But that narrative turned out to be false.

On March 13, 2006, Mangum and another woman were hired to dance for a party held by members of the school’s lacrosse team at a house near campus. After a disagreement, Mangum and her fellow dancer left the party, and later that night she reported that she had been raped while at the party. Nifong doggedly pursued rape charges against three members of the team, despite Mangum’s frequent changes to her story about that night. The prosecutor, who was later disbarred for his conduct in the rape case, was eventually forced to surrender the case to the state attorney general’s office, which conducted an investigation and then declared the three men innocent.

Speaking at a press conference when he dropped the charges against the players, Attorney General Roy Cooper said that while it was common for victims of sexual assault to have trouble reconstructing the sequences of the attack exactly, the inconsistencies in her story were too numerous to make sense of.

“The contradictions in her many versions of what occurred and the conflicts between what she said occurred and other evidence like photographs and phone records could not be rectified,” Cooper said. “Our investigation shows that the eyewitness identification procedures were faulty and unreliable. No DNA confirms the accuser’s story. No other witness confirms her story. Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself.”

Although legal wrangling over the case continues, the media and Durham moved on, with Mangum’s account widely discredited. Mangum, however, refused to back down. In 2008, she published a memoir in which she maintained that she had been sexually assaulted. “This is very difficult for me, but this is something that I have to do,” she said at a press conference. “God has given me the grace and the courage to stand up. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, regardless of their profession.” She graduated NCCU in May 2008 with a degree in police psychology and said she hoped to go to graduate school and help young women like herself.

At some point that plan fell apart. Peterson said Mangum had been working but lost her job shortly after the 2010 arrest. It is unclear whether she has a job now. McCullough, the neighbor, said Mangum and her three children had been living with her grandmother but moved into Daye’s apartment about two weeks ago, just days after the two met and began a relationship. Daye was proud of Mangum’s notoriety, McCullough said.

Now Mangum is in the news again and must explain the sequence of events that led to her arrest. To defenders like Victoria Peterson, it is victimhood that has triggered Mangum’s brushes with the law: “She is a very nice person, but I think what happened to her has not helped her emotionally.” Nonetheless, Peterson expects the charge will come to naught, just like the previous case. “She probably won’t be found guilty in this case either. From what I’ve heard, probably this was self-defense,” she said.

But Peterson’s view is not universal. Like Daye’s nephew, McCullough said he warned his friend when Mangum moved in, noting the Duke case and her prior stabbing arrest as red flags. “I said, ‘Man, that’s too early, you don’t even know this woman,’” McCullough said. “I told him be careful.”

David Graham is a reporter for Newsweek covering politics, national affairs, and business. His writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The National in Abu Dhabi.

Eve Conant is a Newsweek staff reporter covering immigration, politics, social and culture issues.