Nov. 4, 2005
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A jury acquitted two former La Salle basketball players of rape Friday, discounting prosecutors' contention that the woman involved was too drunk to consent to sex.
Attorneys for Gary Neal and Michael Cleaves maintained that the sex was consensual and that the woman, then 19, made up the allegation out of embarrassment after other female basketball players began to gossip.
"We put our faith in the jury system and they didn't let us down," said Wendy Goldstein, who represented Neal.
But even with the acquittal, Cleaves' attorney, Michael McDermott, said the men "are going to have a stigma attached to them for quite a while."
The case - plus a separate rape allegation involving a third La Salle player - ultimately led to the removal of both men's coach Billy Hahn and women's coach John Miller.
Prosecutors claimed Neal and Cleaves raped the visiting University of New Haven player, who was finishing up a one-week stint as a La Salle basketball camp counselor, as she vomited in a sink after drinking eight shots of high-proof alcohol.
Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney's office, said they accepted the jurors' verdict.
"We believed our victim. Our evidence was good," Abookire said. "But we do accept the jury's decision."
Neal, 21, of Baltimore, and Cleaves, 23, of Paterson, N.J., are no longer enrolled in the school.
Goldstein didn't comment specifically on Neal's future.
"I hope he can get his life in order," she said. "His life has been on hold for a couple years."
McDermott said his client wants to play basketball again and graduate from college, though not necessarily at La Salle.
"He's going to take a look around and find out what's out there for him," McDermott said.
Joseph Cicala, dean of students at the Roman Catholic school, said Friday that student privacy rules would not allow him to comment on whether either man would be allowed back at La Salle. Cicala said the school respects the jurors' decision, but added that "the behavior discussed in the courtroom was reprehensible."
"We are all deeply saddened by this situation," Cicala said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the parties involved."
A third former La Salle player, Dzaflo Larkai, has also been charged with rape, sexual assault and related offenses for an alleged April 2003 encounter with a female La Salle player.
Larkai, a 23-year-old from England, was a roommate of Neal and Cleaves.