Duke University has invited two former lacrosse players accused of raping a stripper at a team party back to the North Carolina school, a move the two men says is “vindicating.”

Rape charges were dropped against Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. They were banned from the school while facing those charges. They still face kidnapping and sex charges. If convicted, they could face up to 40 years in prison for the sex offenses and 17 1/2 years for the kidnapping charge.

Finnerty’s lawyer, Wade Smith, says the announcement by Duke officials is a “very important moment.”

“This announcement speaks to Duke’s integrity as an institution, to its mission, and to its belief in Collin Finnerty’s innocence,” Smith said.

Seligmann’s family said the development shows the rape charges against the men were “groundless.”

“By now it should be plain to any person who has any objectivity that the charges against Reade are transparently false,” the family said in a statement.

Dave Evans, a third player indicted, graduated last May, one day before his indictment came down. He also had the rape charged dropped but still faces the kidnapping and sex charges.

Duke President Richard Brodhead said in a statement that inviting Finnerty and Seligmann to be reinstated was the fair thing to do.

“Although the students still face serious charges and larger issues require Duke’s collective attention, the circumstances in this case have changed substantially, and it is appropriate that the students have an opportunity to continue their education,” Brodhead said.

Finnerty and Seligmann have not decided if they will return to Duke.

The rape charges were dropped because the 28-year-old accuser, a student at North Carolina Central University, has told several different stories throughout the investigation, and now says she doesn’t know if she was penetrated when allegedly attacked and raped in a bathroom at a lacrosse team party in March, where she was hired to perform as a stripper. Because of that, District Attorney Mike Nifong said in court papers that “the state is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense.” The dismissal form filed by Nifong states, the woman was interviewed on Thursday and “while she initially believed she had been vaginally penetrated by a male sex organ . . . she cannot at this time testify with certainty.” Nifong was counting on the accuser’s story because of the lack of DNA evidence.

The three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Trial is not expected to start before spring.

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