In Praise of Ryan McFadyen


While much of the hate fest that accompanied the Duke Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, Non-Sexual Assault case has subsided, the vilification of one Duke lacrosse player continues. Ryan McFadyen perhaps has received more bad press in this affair, with the possible exception of Durham District Attorney Michael B. Nifong.

I say "possible" because next week Nifong goes before the North Carolina State Bar for what most of us hope is the first of many trips to the legal woodshed. The fact that "Nifonging" has become a "verb" in legal parlance and his name has been cited by judges elsewhere in association with legal travesties is gratifying, but even Nifong, as evil as he has been, has not received the notoriety that McFadyen has been given — and continues to receive.

The reason this member of the lacrosse team has a prominent place on the Internet and in Wikipedia is because of an email he wrote to teammates early in the morning of March 14, 2006. After two strippers had taken $800 from the team and "danced" for about four minutes before beating an exit from the infamous party (or perhaps "bust" is more accurate), the players realized that they were had and were firing emails back and forth afterward about having been "ripped off." One of the emails came from McFadyen:

“Tomorrow night, after tonights show, ive decided to have some strippers over,” the message read. “However there will be no nudity. i plan on killing bitches as soon as the walk in and proceeding to cut their skin off while cumming in my duke-issue spandex.”

Anyone familiar with Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho can recognize that the email was a bad parody of one of the characters. (One must understand that American Psycho is required reading for many classes at Duke University, so I can guarantee you that many students and faculty members — including the self-righteous faculty members who signed the infamous "Listening" advertisement — immediately recognized the language and the novel’s character.)

The email was sophomoric in tone, but, then, McFadyen was as sophomore. Moreover, while I have not read the other emails in the exchange that night, from what people who have read them tell me, it was clear that neither McFadyen nor anyone else actually was advocating violence against anyone.

Ultimately, what is important about this email involves how police obtained it, and what they did with it. I will go a step farther and say this: Far from being the psychopathic villain that many blogs and mainstream journalists have called him, the affair surrounding the release of this email — the illegal release, I might add — demonstrates that Ryan McFadyen has much better character than his accusers, for McFadyen refused to commit a felony and has paid a very high price for his integrity. I will repeat my claim: Ryan McFadyen, far from being a "dirtbag extraordinare," as one blogger called him, demonstrated that he had integrity that is missing from the entire Durham Police Department and the office of the district attorney of Durham County, North Carolina. Let me begin.

First, no one ever has officially come out and explained how Durham police actually were able to obtain the McFadyen email and the others. The players never turned over those emails, nor did investigators ask for them. We do know that someone sent a bogus email from a player’s address which claimed he was going to "give it up" and tell police about the "rape." It almost certainly was a plant from police, an illegal plant, which means that someone committed a crime in writing and sending it, a crime for which no one will be prosecuted.

While I have read many discussions on the blogs as to how police obtained the infamous McFadyen email, I never have read a definitive explanation on what happened. It almost is certain, however, that the Durham police illegally obtained the emails in question. Moreover, the criminal conduct of Nifong and the Durham police did not stop with obtaining the emails. It runs much, much deeper.

On April 4, 2006, Crystal Gail Mangum went through the illegal and improper "photo lineup" of the lacrosse players. (Much has been written about this exercise and even the City of Durham officially admits that it was an "improper" mechanism for choosing the alleged assailants.) This "lineup" was the sole method by which Mangum identified anyone, given she had already gone through six previous sessions with police and had failed to point out any alleged "attackers." Because the lineup itself was not done legally, police needed something to bolster their case. Using DNA was out, since all of the DNA testing had turned out negative, and there literally was nothing else to demonstrate that Mangum had been raped, or that any lacrosse players had raped her.

Having illegally obtained the McFadyen email, Nifong and the police had him come downtown for a "visit" on April 5 and presented the following choice: either be willing to testify that he saw the "attackers" in the bathroom with Mangum and turn state’s evidence on the rape charges, or the authorities would release the email. One has to understand what was happening. Nifong and the police were giving him the choice either of committing perjury or being humiliated publicly.

By giving him this choice, of course, those involved were committing a felony. First, they had broken the law in obtaining the email and, second, they actively and knowingly were suborning perjury. People who commit such crimes can spend many years in prison, but in this situation, those who allegedly enforce the law in Durham were the ones who shamelessly were breaking that law.

McFadyen, to his everlasting credit, told police and the prosecutor he would not lie for them. After all, there had been no rape, no kidnapping, no sexual assault, no "brutal" beating, nothing. He had seen nothing and would not testify to having seen that which did not happen. Unfortunately, because of the state of law in North Carolina, Ryan McFadyen paid a horrific price for showing integrity, something that anyone in authority in Durham or Duke University has yet to show, even more than a year after this affair began.

After McFadyen’s refusal to commit perjury, Judge Ronald Stephens, the former Durham County prosecutor who covered for his one-time employee, Nifong, then released the email, which was given to journalists all over the country. Stephens, a judge who has sworn to uphold the law, ordered that an illegally-obtained email that had nothing to do with the case be released and publicized because the young man who wrote it was refusing to break the law (which Stephens had sworn to uphold) by lying under oath.

The aftermath of the release was predictable. Duke University suspended McFadyen, and he is roundly attacked even now. (The university lifted the suspension in late June, 2006.) Writers from publication like Sports Illustrated and Newsweek have claimed that he had done everything but commit Crimes Against Humanity. A Google search turns up more than 80,000 hits, and he has had his life threatened on more than one occasion.

In writing this defense of McFadyen, a young man with whom I have had the opportunity to speak at length about the lacrosse affair in general, I realize that I am almost certain to receive hateful emails myself, as I usually receive when writing on this subject. Yet, those who attack McFadyen forget (or perhaps simply refuse to recognize) that this is a young man who has integrity and demonstrated integrity when the authorities demanded he lie under oath in a court of law.

Ryan McFadyen is someone who paid a very heavy price for being honest. Duke University has an honor code, but when one of the university’s students demonstrated honor under real pressure, the university suspended him. Perhaps President Richard Brodhead would have preferred that McFadyen lie under oath and save the university the embarrassment of one of its students having written a sophomoric email (for which McFadyen has apologized repeatedly).