"While espn.com has featured the weak but neutral Roger Cossack as its case legal analyst, cnnsi.com has employed the outrageously biased Lester Munson. “Using his legal training and expertise,” claims his website, “Munson [speaking of himself in the third person] is able to gather and to analyze material not often found in routine sports coverage. He is able to put criminal charges and civil litigation in the sports industry into a context that gives new insights into each case and into American pop culture.”
Munson’s first case-related comments came on April 18. Despite the court filing from Mike Nifong’s office that DNA would exonerate the innocent, Munson immediately downplayed DNA’s role. “There are hundreds of convicted rapists in prison,” he contended, “even though there was no sign of their DNA in the examinations of their victims . . . Lawyers for the accused players can talk endlessly about DNA, but the absence of DNA is not conclusive by itself.” He implied that the team had a history of “previous predatory conduct,” and expressed little doubt that a crime occurred: “There is always an element of brutality in what occurs. In the Duke situation, it may be the number of athletes joining in the attack. In the Tyson case, the attack was brutal.”
The next day, Munson gave an interview under the headline of “Duke lax players are staring down a tough trial.” Downplaying Reade Seligmann’s alibi evidence, he asserted incredibly, “The police and the prosecutor will scrutinize this evidence in exquisite detail, and if they find something is askew, that something doesn't fit in the alibi evidence, they will not hesitate to charge Seligmann with yet another crime. That would be obstruction of justice.” Could Seligmann in fact have been innocent? Very unlikely, proclaimed the legal “expert”: “You don’t see many alibis in criminal cases—it's a very rare thing. Ordinarily, 99 times out of 100, the police have the right guy, and you'll find that most people arrested were involved in something. Getting the wrong guy is very unusual.” Munson offered no evidence to support his extraordinary assertion.
Munson also offered a Wendy Murphy-like theory as to why Nifong had initially only indicted two players. “The question we must ask,” he not-so-sagely observed, “is whether this third player is in the process of negotiating with the prosecutor and is seeking immunity from prosecution or is seeking leniency for his testimony against the other players.” And asked on how the DNA test results would affect the case, Munson was unequivocal: “Its absence is not important. There are hundreds of men in penitentiaries across the United States who were convicted of rape without their DNA being found on the victim. It does help the defense to some extent, but it's not conclusive. The whole idea that DNA evidence was somehow conclusive was the invention of the defense lawyers.” Munson obviously never read the March 23 NTO motion.
In June, Munson made what could be termed an obligatory appearance for all Nifong enablers, offering his insights on the Nancy Grace show. Remarking that he had “studied this at some length,” he assured Grace’s viewers that “the state has probably a better case than most observers are describing . . . Mr. Nifong is a seasoned, experienced prosecutor. He is not stupid . . . I think that Nifong is probably managing the discovery in such a way that there may be some surprises for these defense lawyers further down the road.” Munson seemed unaware that the state of North Carolina has an open discovery statute.
Nifong’s dropping the rape charges did not make Munson any more reasonable. The decision to dismiss the charges, he theorized, “is not a big surprise.” (It was a surprise to just about everyone else.) Munson noted that “there is little doubt that something unsavory happened at the party on March 13,” and—amazingly—looked for “the accused players to attempt to settle everything with a guilty plea on lesser charges.”
[Update, 11.27am: I e-mailed Munson to ask if he still held to his April, June, and December views; he replied as follows:
I remain convinced that something bad happened in the lacrosse captains' house on that night. The women left in a hurry. The women are working girls and they felt a sence of menace that caused them to bolt. The broomsticks may have been a factor. The police reports include an inventory of what was left behind, e.g., their money. Was there a rape? Maybe not. Probably not based on what we now know. When I report a rape case I look at the brevity of the encounter, the brutality of the sex, the injury to the victim, the outcry witnesses, and previous predatory behavior of the accused. This formula allows me to avoid the useless statement of "he said she said." Using my calculus, the evidence of a rape is minimal. Is there enough to get the case to a jury? Is there enough even to continue with the case now in the hands of the attorney general?
I am baffled by the conduct of Mike Nifong. When we began reporting on the case, we were told that he was a perfectly respectable and experienced prosecutor. That appears to be incorrect. The suppression of the exculpatory evidence is probably a crime. As a lawyer and as a journalist, I am appalled at what he did . . .Why would another son of impressive wealth go out of his way in Georgetown to beat a gay man for no reason?
You ask for a reference on the fact that most people who are arrested are guilty and plead guilty. I believe that is common knowledge. The number of criminal cases tried to verdict in the criminal justice "system" is miniscule. If there were not plea bargains, the "system would collapse. If you need a reference, I would suggest "Courtroom 302" by Steve Bogira, a wonderful and detailed account of a year in the life of a courtroom in a busy criminal court.
It is heartening to see that Munson has now condemned Mike Nifong, which he did not do in December. The "something bad happened" argument [what, exactly?] appears to be his last defense. I know of no evidence about "broomsticks," and also the women did not leave in a hurry--they didn't leave for almost 50 minutes* after the broomstick comment. (*Per the accuser's latest revision, they did not leave for more than 50 minutes after the imagined attack concluded.)
“legal expert Lester Munson, who is closely following the case involving members of the Duke lacrosse team”
“On September 30, 1986, Respondent was suspended from the practice of law for three years and until further order of the Court, and this suspension was stayed and Respondent was placed on probation for three years with conditions. In re Munson, No. 85 CH 57, M.R. 4029. Respondent's misconduct included his neglect of three client matters as well as misstatements regarding the status of two of the client matters. Respondent's misconduct was attributable to his alcoholism.”.“In October 1989, Respondent discontinued practicing. Respondent has no current intention to return to the practice of law.”