Just when it appears that the strange and tormented life of Crystal Mangum can’t get any more complicated, it does. Mangum is most famous for falsely accusing three members of the Duke University men’s lacrosse team of rape in 2006, but this month she was arrested after allegedly stabbing her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, in Durham, N.C. Then, on April 13, Daye died, and now Mangum finds herself charged with murder.
It’s tragic news, and it introduces several new twists to the Southern gothic tale. With the new charges, a prosecutor’s office whose integrity was badly damaged when it pursued Mangum’s rape claims several years ago will now face off against her—against a backdrop of rumors swirling in parts of Durham that there might be more to Daye’s death than meets the eye.
On Monday, a grand jury charged Mangum with three counts: first-degree murder and two counts of larceny related to money orders that were allegedly stolen from Daye (read the indictments here, here, and here). She could face life in prison without parole if convicted. But James Coleman, a professor of law at Duke who led the school’s inquiry into the lacrosse incident, said the murder charge raises an eyebrow.
"It appears that [the stabbing] was in the context of a domestic disturbance, and that often involves some kind of mutual combat between the two people," Coleman explains. "That would tend to make [the charge] voluntary manslaughter." Essentially, he says, the prosecutor is suggesting that Daye wasn't fighting back when Mangum delivered the wounds that eventually killed him, and that she acted willfully and "with malice aforethought," meaning her intent was to kill. It's a big step up from a heat-of-the-moment argument.
Why so aggressive a charge? Kelly Gauger, the Durham County assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, wouldn’t comment, citing department policy. But the fact is that her office will be closely watched as it pursues the case. When Mangum leveled her rape accusations, then-District Attorney Mike Nifong aggressively prosecuted the case, despite serious holes in Mangum’s account and contrary forensic evidence. His mishandling of the case culminated in the state attorney general taking over and proclaiming the three indicted players innocent, and Nifong being disbarred (among the charges that led him to lose his law license: making extrajudicial pretrial statements—a good reason for Gauger’s silence).
There’s a backdrop of rumors swirling in parts of Durham that there might be more to Reginald Daye’s death than meets the eye.
That humiliation is bound to play a role in the case. “This is somebody who basically embarrassed the office with the Nifong case, so they’re going to be under scrutiny by the public,” Coleman says. “I think [Gauger] is probably caught between a rock and hard place. There are going to be some who think she’s bringing these charges because this woman lied about the Duke students, or because somehow Duke is pressuring her to roll up the charges.” The D.A.’s office also won’t want to be seen as going easy on Mangum, who’s become a pariah with a long rap sheet.
Before the Duke case, Mangum had filed a rape charge she never followed up on, and had led police on a car chase that nearly killed an officer after stealing a taxi from a customer at the adult-entertainment club where she worked. And last year, Mangum was arrested and 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 after allegedly trying to stab a previous boyfriend and setting his clothes on fire inside the bathtub. But prosecutors were apparently overzealous: They ended up dropping the most serious charges, leaving only arson, and the jury hung on the remaining counts. Mangum ended up with a sentence of 88 days in time already served. Gauger and her team have to thread a needle in administering justice: They have to seem appropriately stern in their charging, but another loss would be an additional blemish on her office’s record, especially given the national attention the latest charges have attracted.
Meanwhile, a rumor is circulating in the Durham community, sources say. How is it, some observers are asking, that when Daye entered the hospital on April 3 he was alert and speaking to police officers, but by April 13 was dead? Daye’s wounds were serious, but a friend told The Daily Beast on April 5 that he was recovering. The rumor suggests that Daye may have died from previous illnesses, or from complications from a procedure related to the stabbing, but not from the wounds themselves—which could complicate the prosecution. “I’ve heard it, but I haven’t been able to confirm that,” says Woody Vann, a Durham lawyer who was appointed to Mangum’s case but received a phone call from another attorney, Chris Shella, on Monday saying that Shella was taking over the case. “I heard a report today that he was suffering from other illnesses unrelated to this. I have no way of knowing. I know he was conscious at the scene.”
A spokeswoman at Duke Hospital, where Daye was treated and died, said she couldn’t comment. The Durham County Medical Examiner said an autopsy might not be available for 120 days, and it said it wouldn’t release any preliminary reports. Shella, for his part, said he couldn’t comment because he still hadn’t seen the indictments. But he said, “My client’s asserting her innocence, and I will vigorously defend her,” adding, “she misses her family, she misses her kids.”
While many in Durham have grown accustomed to not taking anything Mangum seriously, her friends are now experiencing disbelief of a different sort. Vince Clark, a friend and sort of agent who published Mangum’s memoir in 2008, said he spoke to Mangum two or three weeks ago, and she seemed to be in high spirits. The latest news was a shock, and Clark said he was still trying to figure what exactly happened. (A neighbor told The Daily Beast that Mangum and Daye had returned to Daye’s apartment after drinking at a cookout and began quarreling about money, eventually leading to the stabbing—an account the larceny indictments seem to confirm.)
“My first gut reaction, I’m sad for her and Mr. Daye,” Clark said. “There’s a person dead, we can’t forget about that. And I’m just really sad about Crystal.” Although Clark said he could never imagine Mangum committing violence, he said the continued ramifications of the Duke case exerted an incredible pressure on her that must have had some effect on her mentality—and could have exacerbated any mental illnesses Mangum had.
“It didn’t seem like she was ever able to shake the Duke thing,” Clark said. “There were people who wrote about her every single day for the last few years. She was trying to go on with her life, but everywhere she turned it was smacking her in the face.”
At this point, he says, he just hopes there’s some way to help her three children gain something resembling a normal life.
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.