St. Joseph County prosecutor Michael Dvorek came forward Thursday with his verdict in the Lizzy Seeberg case. No charges will be brought against the Notre Dame football player accused of sexual assault.
For those unfamiliar with the case, Ms. Seeberg was a student at nearby Saint Mary's College. On the night of Aug. 31 while in a dorm room at the University of Notre Dame, Lizzy alleged that a current Notre Dame football player fondled her breasts without her consent, constituting sexual assault.
Ms. Seeberg reported the incident to police on Sept. 1 and filed her written account on Sept. 6 (per reports).
On Sept. 10, 2010, Ms. Seeberg, who had a history of anxiety and depression, committed suicide by overdosing on prescription antidepressants.
After an initial investigation by the NDSP, the records were turned over to the County prosecutor's office in November for review.
On Thursday, Dec. 16, Michael Dvorek, the St. Joseph County prosecutor, came forward with his complete findings:
Our review of these two criminal allegations [the second being a friend who sent text messages to Ms. Seeberg, detailed below) and our decision not to prosecute either of them is based upon the evidence as well as the likelihood that Ms. Seeberg's statements-as a consequence of her untimely death on September 10, 2010-would be found inadmissible in a court of law because of evidentiary rules involving hearsay and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Crawford v. Washington.
Crawford v. Washington was a supreme court case that established statements outside the court must be available for cross-examination. Because Ms. Seeberg is no longer alive, her statements would be inadmissible in court.
Since this case was first reported in the media by the Chicago Tribune, Notre Dame has been accused of covering for the football player. And the Tribune has been accused of being involved in a witch hunt against the university and the player.
Who is correct?
Honestly, without all the evidence (that the police and investigators have access to), we cannot come to an accurate conclusion.
But we can try to put the case in perspective.
Similar Cases in Notre Dame's Recent History
The question of whether Notre Dame is involved in a cover up becomes strange in light of its past responses to allegations and convictions:
1. In 1996, a basketball player was expelled following allegations of stealing a friend's credit cards and charging about 900 dollars to them.
2. A fullback in 1998 was expelled following allegations of rape, though charges were never pressed.
3. In 2002, four football players were dismissed from the university when accused of rape. One was acquitted, charges were dismissed against two of them, and the fourth was convicted of a lesser charge. But they were expelled before the criminal charges.
4. In 2005, a fullback was suspended for the entirety of the season following a DUI.
5. In 2006-07, a basketball player was suspended and eventually expelled for possession of marijuana.
6. In 2008, a football player was suspended for football and lacrosse spring practice/seasons then for the remainder of the fall season following two alcohol-related incidents.
Why would a school that has a history of being hard on its athletes (and the student body in general) sweep the current sexual assault allegations under the rug? While possible, it just doesn't make sense.
The above allegations/convictions that resulted in suspensions or expulsions were either a) known convictions of certain crimes or b) involved rape allegations (Note: Notre Dame disciplines students for having sex which can in and of itself result in expulsion).
Did the NDSP have reason to believe the allegations in the Seeberg case had no merit? Was evidence lacking?
In the press release, the county prosecutor notes "conflicts exist among the witnesses' accounts of the events given to the police. Subpoenaed cell phone records are inconsistent with parts of the complaint itself."
Text Messaging, the Second Allegation
Lizzy reported believing the accused was messaging his friend who was in the room, possibly asking the friend to leave so he could take advantage of her. Records may indicate this was not the case (and would account for the prosecutor's reference to inconsistencies).
Text messages two days later from the accused's friend have been construed as a threat (this is what the prosecutor referenced as the second criminal allegation). "Don't do anything you would regret" and "messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea."
This can be taken one of two ways. Either it is a threat that she did not come forward with true allegations, or the friend thought the allegations were unfounded (i.e. don't go spreading lies about a Notre Dame football player).
Both appear to be threats. The difference being, one of them tries to suppress the truth (if the allegations are correct). But even if it was a threat, it comes from a friend and not the accused.
No ramifications were spelled out by the friend if she were to come forward. Her life was not threatened by the messages. As such, it's understandable the county couldn't press charges even if something shady was behind the messages.
Was Notre Dame's Investigation Timely and Complete?
To me, this is the most important question.
Based on information available to us, Lizzy notified campus police (NDSP) on Sept. 1 and then filed her written report to them on Sept. 6 (some debate exists on this date).
Campus police attempted to contact the accused Sept. 9 and 13 without success (Sept. 3-5 and 10-12 were home football weekends). On Sept. 15, they succeeded in speaking with the accused.
In the meantime, Ms. Seeberg overdosed on a prescription anti-depressant on Sept. 10 and tragically died.
The questions that come to my mind from the above are the following:
1. What protocols are in place for sexual assault cases? Do these protocols differ if rape is alleged? Most importantly, were these protocols followed by the NDSP?
2. What is a reasonable time frame to investigate a sexual assault? Does the time frame change based on the severity of the allegation?
3. Did the other two sexual assault investigations listed within that week on the NDSP police blotter impact their investigation of Ms. Seeberg's case? Did these involve more severe accusations than her case?
4. Did the results of the rape kit and/or hospital records impact how swiftly they proceeded with their case? Was there other evidence they were waiting on? Did they need the written statement (or want it so they could ask specific questions of the accused) before contacting the accused?
5. Should sexual assault allegations automatically be turned over to the county police? Do they have a protocol in place about when they turn cases over to the county police (i.e. rape)?
All in all, I think it's an excellent idea that that the Department of Education is further investigating procedures at Notre Dame. If I were Lizzy's parents, I would have pushed for this and an independent investigation of the facts.
Equal Rights for the Victim and the Accused—The Duke Lacrosse Scandal
Cases that involve sexual assault of any form cause a very emotional response. Most of us generally side with the victim. And most of us know someone who has been the victim of these crimes. Often the accused (if guilty) walks free because of lack of evidence so these cases are very frustrating.
But both parties are protected under the law. And in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty.
I keep coming back to the question of how I would feel if someone wrongfully accused me of sexual assault (taking out whether or not the accused is guilty in this particular case). It wouldn't be fair for me to be suspended from my job without proof that I did something wrong as some have suggested.
Unless charges were pressed, I wouldn't want my name in the media for suspected sexual battery, rape, or murder. These allegations carry a weight that other crimes do not. Even if found innocent (and you are truly innocent), there are many out there who will forever associate you with those crimes. Further, those crimes take time to investigate so months can go by with a trial by media before you even go to court.
This is why people bring up the Duke Lacrosse case. Students in this case were removed from the university following allegations of rape (they were later cleared). The university ended up settling with each student out of court for their wrongful dismissal.
Unfortunately the only two people who know what happened in that room are Lizzy and the accused.
Some defending Notre Dame have referenced her psychiatric history. Some defending Lizzy have brought up the accused's past of aggressive behavior (none of this of a sexual nature).
I don't think either of these are necessary for the general public to know but probably important for the investigators. Lizzy and the accused (assuming innocence) should not have their characters dragged through the mud.
May she rest in peace.
And may justice win out over all.