SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Over the course of nine years, former ballboy Bobby Davis told his story of sexual abuse at the hands of Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine to the police, the college, the local newspaper and a national TV network. Each time, either he was too late or his story couldn't be proved.
When he went public again last month, he was maligned by Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim as an opportunist and a liar.
On Wednesday, a top law enforcement official became the first to say publicly he believed Davis was a victim and Fine had abused him.
At his news conference to explain that the statute of limitations would keep him from conducting an investigation, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick addressed Davis directly.
"Bobby, I'm sorry it took so long," he said. "I wish I had met you as a prosecutor in 2002. Even more importantly, I wish I had met you as a prosecutor back in the 1980s. We wouldn't be here today."
Davis, his stepbrother Michael Lang and a third man, Zach Tomaselli, of Lewiston, Maine, say Fine preyed on them when they were boys.
The statute of limitations expired five years after Davis and Lang say they were molested. But the federal statute of limitations in place in 2002, when Tomaselli says he was abused by Fine in a Pittsburgh hotel room, allowed a victim to bring charges until he was 25; Tomaselli is 23.
Fitzpatrick, however, said school and travel records may undercut Tomaselli's account that Fine molested him in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.
Fine's lawyers, Donald Martin and Karl Sleight, said in a statement that it appears "that there is proof that Tomaselli fabricated this allegation."
Tomaselli's phone rang unanswered Wednesday.
Tomaselli also is charged in Maine with molesting a teenage boy and said this week that he'll plead guilty.
The 65-year-old Fine, who had been Boeheim's top assistant since 1976, has adamantly denied wrongdoing.
The U.S. attorney's office is investigating and has seized computers, cameras, phones and records during searches of his office, home and locker.
Even with the support of the district attorney, neither Lang nor Davis can bring civil action against Fine.
The statute of limitations in New York on bringing a civil suit for child sexual abuse is five years after the victim turns 18. New York lawmakers are again considering a measure to lift it or open a one-year window for older incidents that, if approved, would open the way for a civil suit by Davis or Lang.
Davis went to the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper in 2002 and ESPN in 2003; neither media outlet could corroborate his claims. He went to the police, too, in 2002, and a detective told him the statute of limitations had expired. Three years later, he went to the university; Syracuse had its lawyers do an internal investigation and says it, too, couldn't verify Davis' accusations.
Then, on Nov. 17, with the country still caught up in the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, where a former assistant football coach is accused of molesting 10 boys, Davis came forward on ESPN. Lang came forward. Ten days later, Tomaselli spoke out. That day, Nov. 27, ESPN aired a tape in which a woman it identified as Fine's wife tells Davis she knew "everything" that was going on.
The university fired Fine that day.
Fitzpatrick called the tape "devastating."
When the news broke on Nov. 17, Boeheim vehemently defended his longtime friend and assistant and said the accusations were lies to make money in the wake of the Penn State scandal. Victim advocates reacted angrily and called for Boeheim to resign or be fired. He later backtracked and said he was wrong to question the motives of the accusers.
Fitzpatrick said Fine hurt not only Davis and Lang but Boeheim and the university.
"He let his friend go out and attack the victims, never once warning him they were telling the truth," Fitzpatrick said. "Then stood by and did nothing while that friend was vilified."
Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to contact Davis and Lang have been unsuccessful. Knocks on the doors of their two darkened houses were unanswered Wednesday after Fitzpatrick's statement.
A woman hanging Christmas lights outside the Fines' house said the couple are in Florida.
As Fitzpatrick called out Fine on Wednesday, he softened his once-sharp criticism of the police and university investigations and rebuked those who have called for the resignations of Boeheim and university Chancellor Nancy Cantor. He said the case can't be compared to Penn State, where head football coach Joe Paterno and college administrators knew of the accusations against Jerry Sandusky, who maintains his innocence.
"It's not only inaccurate, it's not fair," he said.
Fitzpatrick laid the blame squarely on Fine.
"Hasn't Bernie Fine caused enough pain in this community?" Fitzpatrick said.Comment on this story
Fitzpatrick said his investigation started out to answer several questions, among them: Were Davis and Lang being truthful?
"On almost every single criteria, Bobby Davis came out as a credible person," the district attorney said. "Mike Lang also comes across as a credible person."
Fitzpatrick also directed personal comments to Lang at Wednesday's press conference.
"For Mike Lang, who still feels he could have done more to help his little brother: Mike, it's never too late to do the right thing," he said. "And let it be known by everybody in this room that you did just that: The right thing."
Associated Press writers Michael Virtanen, Chris Carola and George Walsh in Albany and Michael Hill and John Kekis in Syracuse contributed to this report.