Friday, January 05, 2007

The Hometown Zero

Over the past two weeks, Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong has received quite a bit of attention from his hometown newspaper - The Wilmington Star-News. Born and raised in Wilmington, NC, Defendant Nifong worked for three years as a social worker in the New Hanover County Department of Social Services in Wilmington, before starting his career with the Durham County DA’s office. Despite the strong ties one might expect the defendant to have to the area, the Star-News, which boasts reaching 68% of the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area (approximately 162,000 people), over the past week has denounced Nifong in several blistering editorials, guest columns, and letters to the editor. The criticism of Defendant Nifong from his hometown daily has ranged from mocking jabs to harsh calls for his resignation. Nifong would appear to be anything but a favorite son of Wilmington.

Most recently, The Star-News, which is owned by the New York Times Company, chided Defendant Nifong for both his shameful decision to prevent the public from seeing him take his oath of office, and his attempt to blame Durham, the community he represents, for the problems he has caused:
“After hiding from the public while he took the oath of office, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong explained something: "The problem" isn't him. "The problem" is Durham.

“Apparently it was Durham that, without examining all the evidence, announced to the world that three Duke lacrosse players were "hooligans" who probably raped a stripper.

“Apparently it was Durham that, in violation of the law and Nifong's past practice, conspired with an expert witness to hide evidence that would have weakened the already flimsy case against the players.

“Apparently it is Durham that, according to the State Bar, committed ethical violations and Durham that, according to Nifong's fellow district attorneys, should let someone else handle the lacrosse case.

"I don't feel that I'm part of the problem," Nifong said. "Durham has some healing to do. And I need to be part of that healing process, and I need to have something to
do with how we move forward."

“One of his former assistants and former campaign managers said the best way Nifong could help Durham heal is to step away from the lacrosse case.

"How can anybody who comes through those doors up there, from a traffic ticket to a murder trial, trust that they're going to get a fair trial?" she asked.“It's a fair question, and not only in Durham.

“When Gov. Mike Easley appointed him to fill the DA's vacancy in 2005, Nifong said he that hadn't sought the job in the past because he'd lacked perspective. But with age and experience, he said, he'd realized that,

"It's not really about winning. This is really supposed to be about justice."
"Unless, of course, there's an election coming up.”
Earlier this week, the Star-News by way of a guest column penned by the paper’s retired executive editor, Charles Anderson, took a swipe at local District Attorney Ben David by making reference to Defendant Nifong while criticizing David’s role in the Peyton Strickland tragedy:

“[Sheriff Sid] Causey, [Chief Deputy Tom] Parker and Ben David ought to be in the dock. The first two for wretched leadership and David for political aspirations that led him to an egregious overreach. Durham's Mike Nifong comes to mind.”

These two pokes at Nifong followed a scathing editorial calling for “Disgraceful” Nifong to resign, while comparing his credibility to that of the pseudo victim who started the Hoax with her false accusations:

“Mike Nifong has demonstrated that he is not ethically or professionally fit to prosecute a littering case, much less the sexual assault case involving three Duke lacrosse players…

“The woman who accused them turns out to be about as credible as the Durham district attorney who sought publicity – during his campaign for re-election – by rushing to prosecute and publicly denounce the kids she picked from of a lineup of player photos.

“Nifong dropped the rape charges last week after his chief witness changed her story once again. Yet he refused to drop other charges, some of which carry the same penalties…

“No jury in its right mind would believe anything the accuser or Nifong said. “Last week, the director of a lab testified that Nifong talked him into withholding evidence that might help the defense. And there was such evidence. Withholding it broke the law.

“Nor was that a surprise. Documents and statements reveal, according to The News & Observer, that “Nifong has repeatedly misrepresented his actions in filings and in face-to-face dealings with judges.”

“Hiding behind paper hung over the windows of his office, Nifong issues written statements and refuses to talk with North Carolina reporters. Yet Thursday he gave a three-hour interview to The New York Times.

“Nifong doesn’t owe an explanation to the readers of a national newspaper. He owes an explanation to the people who elected him. He owes it to the people of this state.

“But he owes them more: his resignation.”

In December, a reader of the Star-News turned “Nifong” into a pejorative while calling out District Attorney Ben David in an letter the paper entitled “The Nifong of New Hanover.”

“Some know-it-all people are bashing Sheriff Sid Causey for sending a SWAT team to serve a warrant on someone who was believed (with reason) to be armed. The one who needs some real bashing is District Attorney Ben David.

“He is the Nifong of New Hanover County. Nifong (in Durham) brought apparently fraudulent charges of rape against some Duke students because he was running for office and needed favorable publicity.

“I think David has political ambitions and believes that, if he wins this case by putting a good deputy in jail for a long time, he will get a lot of name recognition…

“Maybe he's planning to run for attorney general when the current one gets some higher office.

“Most grand juries indict whomever the DA tells them to indict.

“It's not good for David's political future that this grand jury acted on the evidence and not on the orders of the DA.

“Will the next grand jury obey the man who thinks he is "The Boss"?

The Star-News began its current anti-Nifong campaign by noting that Nifong’s misdeeds echo those of other dirty DA’s that have sullied the North Carolina criminal justice system.

“Add another DA to the sorry list.“It's hard to keep track of the North Carolina district attorneys who cheat, break the law and trample the truth in a rush to get convictions - not to mention publicity for their next political campaign.

“Now Durham DA Mike Nifong is accused of getting the head of a private laboratory to withhold DNA evidence that might weaken his rape case against those three Duke lacrosse players. The lab director testified under oath last week that Nifong talked him into it.

“The DA didn't even dispute it. He just said the players' high-priced defense attorneys hadn't asked for the evidence that might have gotten their clients off the hook.

“But state law requires prosecutors to give evidence to defense attorneys whether they ask for it or not. Nifong had to know that - particularly after the uproar over the failure of two other prosecutors to turn over evidence that might have made it harder for them to railroad an innocent man to death row. The State Bar says they also altered documents and lied to the judge.

“Of course, Nifong also knew that those two prosecutors have not been prosecuted by their fellow prosecutors. One prosecutor has even become a judge. So you know he's honest.

“Nor has Attorney General Roy Cooper asked the General Assembly to give him (and not just local DAs) the authority to go after prosecutors who violate the laws they swore to uphold.

“Heaven forbid. The public might lose faith in the integrity of its "criminal justice system" and the honesty of the politicians it elects to prosecute criminals.”

While it might appear that the Star-News has recently jumped on the bandwagon, Nifong’s hometown paper has been on to him for several months now. In June, while many in the mainstream media, including parent company flagship, The New York Times, were carrying water for native son Nifong, the Star-News made its first call for Defendant Nifong to recuse himself from the Hoax.

“Another DA disgraces N.C.

“Nobody looks good in the uproar over whether members of the Duke lacrosse team raped a hired stripper. Nobody looks worse than Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.

“Running for re-election, the veteran prosecutor spewed fiery public denunciations of unnamed players even before anyone was charged. The state bar's rules supposedly prohibit that sort of thing.

“When defense attorneys - some of the best money could buy - started trumpeting
evidence that seems to cast serious doubt on the charges, Nifong clammed up.

“Now it turns out that some of the things the prosecutor said conflict with evidence
in his possession. At best, he spoke before he had the facts. At worst, he ignored them. In either case, he has failed to acknowledge any misstatements and apologize.

“The Duke law professor who investigated his proud university's sluggish and lame response to the accusations against its boorish athletes has called for someone else to take the case.

“Someone else should. Nifong's credibility has diminished with each new episode in this tawdry soap opera.

“But someone else apparently won't take the case unless Nifong himself asks to be
relieved. The law apparently puts that power in his hands alone.

“In a state whose lawmakers truly valued justice in their "criminal justice" system, someone else would have the power to remove prosecutors who've gone off the rails. The attorney general comes to mind, or the chief justice.

“But in North Carolina, lawmakers seem to put local prosecutors at the top of the judicial heap. As they've demonstrated lately, DAs can get away with lying to judges and lawyers in order to send innocent people to death row. They can get away with lying to the public in order to win re-election.

“If Nifong cares about justice - and salvaging his reputation - he will ask Attorney General Roy Cooper to let somebody else take this embarrassingly botched case.

“If North Carolina legislators care about justice - and salvaging their reputations - they will change the laws that allow prosecutors to get away with murder.”

The old adage, “You Can Always Go Home,” appears to no longer apply to the disgraced Defendant Nifong.


GPrestonian said...

Good post, LS! Two nteresting tidbits there - that the Star-News is a Times paper, and that they had called for Nifong to step aside in June. Do you have a link to that editorial, or did I miss it in the post?


LieStoppers said...

June 16, 2006 Star-News Editorial:

Anonymous said...

Kind of off the subject, but my experience with lawyers...and I work with that they tend to stick up for one another, even when they are the opposition.

The fact that the NC DA's as a group have basically condemned Nifong is immensely significant. In my opinion it is even more damning than the NC Bar charges.

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