Raleigh, NC -- The label "discredited Duke lacrosse accuser" has been attached to Crystal Mangum for nearly four years since North Carolina's top prosecutor determined she'd falsely accused three players of raping her at a party. When the accusations unraveled, it marked the beginning of a slide into erratic and violent behavior. Now, a boyfriend she's accused of stabbing has died -- which could land her in the most serious trouble yet.
Mangum has been jailed on an assault charge since the April 3 argument that ended with the stabbing of Reginald Daye, but police say the man's death on Wednesday could bring more serious charges. It's the latest in a series of problems with the law that included her conviction last year on misdemeanor charges after setting a fire that nearly torched her home with her three children inside.
The Duke lacrosse case still touches raw nerves in Durham. Unable to find steady work because of her notoriety, Mangum has been involved in a string of unhappy relationships that she hoped would provide stability for her children, friends say.
"It's Crystal Mangum. THE Crystal Mangum," Daye's nephew said in a 911 call after the stabbing at the apartment the couple shared. "I told him she was trouble from the damn beginning."
A spotlight has been on Mangum, 32, since she said she was raped at a 2006 party where she was working as a stripper. A year later, the state attorney general concluded there was no credible evidence of an attack and that the three accused men were innocent.
The district attorney who championed Mangum's claims was disbarred and spent a night in jail. The state considered charges against Mangum but declined to pursue them, partly citing her mental state.
"I've talked to her time and time again about trying to move on from the Duke thing and trying to get her life in order, and every time she takes steps toward that, a boyfriend thing comes up," said Vincent Clark, who befriended her at the time of the rape accusations and went on to co-author her self-published memoir, "The Last Dance for Grace."
Last year, she was arrested and charged with setting a blaze at her home during an argument with a different boyfriend. During a videotaped police interrogation hours after her arrest, she said she set fire to the boyfriend's clothes, smashed the windshield of his car, and threatened to stab him during their confrontation. In December, a jury deadlocked on the arson charge, convicting her of related misdemeanors. If she had been convicted of arson, she could have been sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
"She's desperately looking for a man to help her out with her kids," said Clark, who describes Mangum as quiet, funny and a voracious consumer of the news. "She gets laid off from a job, she takes up with a guy, the guy's kind of questionable, but it provides a way to help support her kids."
Friends say she considered leaving Durham for a place where her name isn't as well known, but was daunted by the prospects of uprooting her family.
"It's easy for outsiders to say she should leave Durham, but how do you do that with three children? Moving costs money," said Jackie Wagstaff, a former Durham City Council and school board member who was an outspoken supportive presence at Mangum's trial last year.
"She's not the monster she's been painted to be," said Wagstaff, who spent last Christmas with Mangum and her children.
But having a group of supporters has insulated Mangum from the full consequences of her actions, argued KC Johnson, a Brooklyn College history professor who co-wrote the book "Until Proven Innocent" about the Duke lacrosse case and blogged about Mangum's trial last year.
"It's incredibly sad, because she was given an opportunity to move beyond this," he said. "What makes this particularly tragic is that if the previous trial had ended differently, none of this would have occurred."
Durham police are still investigating Daye's death, and anticipate filing new charges, spokeswoman Kammie Michael said Thursday. Mangum's lawyer, Harold "Woody" Vann, said she'll plead not guilty to the current assault charge, but declined to comment further on the case.
"I have met with her since being appointed, but I haven't had a chance to talk to her about (Daye's death)," he said. "I will do that if and when they upgrade the charges."
Phone messages left with Daye's relatives were not immediately returned Thursday.
Wagstaff and Clark say they continue to support Mangum, and want to know more about the circumstances of Daye's death. The hospital where the 46-year-old died declined to say what caused his death.
"Don't be so quick to judge," Wagstaff said. "Let the criminal justice system work, if it can."