ESSENCE magazine has learned that famed civil-rights attorney Willie Gary met with the mother of the young woman at the center of the controversial Duke rape investigation briefly this afternoon in Chapel Hill.

Reverend Jesse Jackson told ESSENCE that during a conversation in which he called to pray with the parents of the alleged victim, he suggested that the family call Willie Gary and gave the mother the necessary contact information. The father of the 27-year-old alleged victim called Willie Gary’s office to follow up on Reverend Jackson’s suggestion.

Willie Gary, a prominent Florida attorney known as the Giant Killer in some legal circles, is the founding partner in Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson, & Sperando, P.L. Gary has made headlines with high-profile cases against Fortune 500 companies like Anheuser-Busch, Microsoft and Coca-Cola. He won a $500 million verdict against the Loewen Group, a Canadian company that owned a chain of funeral homes, and a $240 million award against Walt Disney Corp.

Today’s conversation between the alleged victim’s mother and Willie Gary took place at a Chapel Hill church where Gary was scheduled to speak. The 30-minute meeting occurred at the request of the mother, who told ESSENCE that she did it for the sake of her daughter. “I think he would make a good lawyer,” the mother told ESSENCE. “A very good lawyer.” She also said that she believed her daughter would like Gary if she had a chance to meet him.

As previously reported on, many within the family have become increasingly concerned about the alleged victim’s state of mind amid death threats to the family and intense media scrutiny [“Nowhere to Turn”]. The African-American mother of two young children was hired as an exotic dancer for a Duke University lacrosse team party March 13, where she says she was gang-raped and sodomized by three White men in a bathroom. “She needs some help. That girl needs some professional help,” her aunt told ESSENCE magazine yesterday.

Reade Seligmann, 20, and Collin Finnerty, 19, were indicted April 17 on charges of first-degree sexual offense, first-degree forcible rape and first-degree kidnapping. Defense attorneys for both men maintain their innocence.

When asked why he agreed to today’s meeting, Gary told ESSENCE, “It appears that a grave injustice has been done. And if I can help in any way to level the playing field, then I’m willing to do it.” This may come as good news to many in the alleged victim’s family as the defense attorneys in the controversial case have reportedly assembled an army of lawyers from some of the most prestigious law firms in Durham, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey.

Gary also told ESSENCE that he had a great meeting with the mother. “She’s very much interested in my getting involved. However,” he added, “I’ve only met with the mother today. At this particular time I have not spoken to the daughter and will not [speak with her] until such time as she calls.”

The parents of the alleged victim told ESSENCE that while they are pleased with District Attorney Mike Nifong’s handling of the criminal case, they worry that their daughter may also need additional legal guidance.

Additional reporting by Tatsha Robertson.

Names have been omitted to protect the identity of the family and the alleged victim.

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