TRENTON - Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. has withdrawn from the probe into allegations that New Jersey state troopers sexually assaulted a college student.

The decision, announced last night by state Attorney General Anne Milgram, comes in the wake of statements Bocchini made about the case in an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger.

In the interview, Bocchini describes the case as "a nightmare," involving multiple accounts of what happened, the presence of alcohol, a lack of photos or tapes, and with medical evidence that might show only that people had sex.

Milgram, who said she agreed with Bocchini that his comments were "inappropriate," said the case has been assigned to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.

In a letter to Milgram yesterday, Bocchini said his comments "could very well create a public perception that my office should not handle this investigation."

He added that while he believes his staff could handle the probe in a fair manner, "I believe that in the best interest of this ongoing investigation that supersession is appropriate. Consequently, I am requesting that this investigation be superseded and assigned to another prosecuting authority."

State troopers have been suspended with pay in connection with a woman's claim that she was sexually assaulted on Dec. 7.

The woman, a 25-year-old college student whose name has not been released, alleged that she had been assaulted by a group of men that included one or more off-duty troopers at the home of one of the troopers in Ewing Township. She had met the men at a bar in Trenton.

One of the defense lawyers has labeled her claim "absurd." *