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DA drops rape charge against former BU hockey player

Rape charges against former Boston University hockey player Max A. Nicastro were dropped Friday after prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a crime.

Holly Broadbent, chief of the sexual assault unit at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, said the accuser, a student at BU, continues to maintain that she was sexually assaulted by Nicastro in February in his dorm room. Broadbent said the student, whom prosecutors did not identify because of a policy of not naming rape victims, was an acquaintance of Nicastro’s, but they were “not in a relationship.”

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She said her staff concluded that they did not have a strong enough case to bring to trial. Their investigation, she said, included interviewing the accuser and multiple witnesses, as well as examining medical evidence and video surveillance tapes.

The case, in addition to a sexual assault allegation involving another BU hockey player, roiled the campus during the past year, prompting President Robert A. Brown to form a task force to study the school’s hockey culture and its effect on the broader campus community.

Nicastro, 22, who is no longer enrolled at BU, was in Brighton Municipal Court Friday morning to hear that the charges had been dropped. He was a junior before leaving BU, though campus officials would not say whether he was expelled or left voluntarily — or whether he now has the option to return. Hockey coach Jack Parker, who had suspended Nicastro, did not return a phone call left at his office.

Nicastro’s defense attorney Hugh R. Curran said Friday’s developments show that Nicastro — a former star defenseman from Thousand Oaks, Calif., and a third-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 — should never have been charged. Nicastro did not have a criminal record, prosecutors have said.

“My client has always maintained his innocence,” Curran said. “Our position is that there was no crime committed and our client is innocent.’’

BU police, however, faced a far different scenario four months ago. According to investigators, a female student called campus police in the early morning hours of Sunday, Feb. 19 — just hours after Nicastro scored a goal in BU’s weekend loss to UMass Lowell in Agannis Arena. She was upset and tearful and said she had been raped by Nicastro, authorities said. She was taken to a nearby hospital.

After conducting interviews, the campus police took Nicastro into police custody at 6:30 a.m.

Nicastro, who was on a hockey scholarship, was subsequently suspended by Parker, according to BU spokesman Colin Riley. At the time, it was the second case in two months of alleged sexual assault involving a BU hockey player: Last Dec. 11, Corey Trivino, the team’s leading scorer, was arrested on numerous charges after he allegedly broke into a woman’s room at night — and his charges are pending.

Complaints of sexual assaults are common on college campuses, and BU is no exception, Riley said. In 2010, for instance, there were eight complaints of alleged on-campus “forcible sex offenses.”

Riley said school officials are constantly educating students that the vast majority of these cases involve people who knew each other, and “alcohol played a role.”

Nicastro’s attorney said the former hockey player’s priority now is to complete his education. Calls to his family’s home in California were not returned.

“The most important aspect of his life going forward is obtaining his college degree,’’ Curran said. “Like any athlete, he has been staying in shape. But hockey is secondary, and has been secondary, to what has been taking place in his life. His education has always been the primary focus.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com and Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.

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