Thursday, March 22, 2007

Setrakian Stands By Claim, Accuser Not Cooperating

Amid rampant rumors that the special prosecutors from the North Carolina Attorney General's office concluded their investigation prior to meeting with defense attorneys again yesterday, Lara Setrakian of ABC News reaffirmed her sourced claim that Crystal Mangum has refused to detail her story for the prosecutors who replaced Defendant Nifong in January. In advance of an announcement expected this week or next from NC Attorney General Roy Cooper, Setrakian offers additional clues to what direction Cooper's decision may take.
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Last week, Setrakian broke an exclusive story revealing that Crystal Mangum was not cooperating with the North Carolina Attorney General’s special prosecutors.

“The woman who accused three members of the Duke University men's lacrosse team of sexual assault is not being forthcoming with special prosecutors, law enforcement sources close to the case tell ABC News.

“The accuser has met at least twice with prosecutors from the North Carolina attorney general's office, which took over the case from Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong in January.

“In those interviews, she gave incomplete answers when asked about the alleged assault and the events surrounding it, according to sources.”
NC Attorney General Roy Cooper was quick to issue a denial of Setrakian’s initial claims. At the time we noted:

The Attorney General’s office initially declined official comment on the accuser’s lack of cooperation:

“A spokeswoman for the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper would not comment on the accuser's participation with the investigation.”

Curiously, and in direct contradiction to the leak, Roy Cooper was quick to deny the assertion that the accuser was evading key questions. Within an hour of its original posting, the ABC article was amended to include:

“AG Denies Accuser's Lack of Cooperation

The attorney general's office issued the following statement to ABC News:

"In discussions with our attorneys, the accuser has been cooperative in answering questions and providing information. More discussions are scheduled."

In an article published late yesterday, Setrakian stood by those initial claims, despite Roy Cooper’s quick denial.

“As of March 16, she had not yet told that story to special prosecutors investigating the case. Law enforcement sources told ABC News that in at least two initial meetings with those officials, the accuser was not forthcoming and hesitated to answer investigators' questions.”

“Multiple sources close to the investigation confirmed that she was reluctant to answer questions in those interviews, though further meetings were scheduled in which she might become more forthcoming.”

Setrakian’s initial offering was met with harsh criticism for investing three quarters of its length to a one-sided examination of the reason for Mangum's newfound reticence. Victim advocates offered farfetched explanations of how Mangum’s current silence, in stark contrast to her previous wildly contradictory tales, was somehow indicative that “something happened.” Left unexamined was even the possibility that her silence might be due to her familiarity with the words "Anything you say can and will be used against you." We described the article's shortcomings as follows:

“Further detracting from the reliability of the article, the final three of its four pages attempt to downplay Mangum's reported, then denied, uncooperativeness by suggesting that the false accuser’s reticence is an indication that she was assaulted. Without offering the more obvious conclusion that Ms. Mangum, faced with the prospect of having to reconcile her mutually exclusive alternate versions with equally contradictory physical, scientific, and medical evidence, as well as numerous credible witness statements, has decided to remain silent rather than further incriminate herself, Setrakian parades Leah Oettinger, a victim’s advocate formerly employed with the Durham Crisis Response Center, to ensure her readers that just because everything points to "nothing happened" it doesn't mean that nothing happened.”

The latest ABC article attempts to erase the false impression created by the first offering, as Setrakian turns to Linda Fairstein, who ABC dubs “America's Top Sex Crimes Expert.” Fairstein puts the accuser’s failure to cooperate into proper perspective by noting:

"Her reluctance at this stage isn't a sign that she's not sure what happened — it's a red flag that there are things wrong with the story."

Ms. Fairstein, who for over two decades headed the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit, overseeing an estimated 4,000 rape accusations per year, is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of sex crimes prosecution. Ms. Fairstein has been critical of the Hoax for some time now. In October, she responded to the revelation that Defendant Nifong had not yet interviewed the accuser by decrying his abuse of prosecutorial discretion.

“It belies anything a prosecutor would do before making charges. There was no need to rush to the charging judgment in this case. … This whole train should have been slowed down and everybody interviewed before charging decisions. To have witnesses appear on a media program revealing information that the prosecutor doesn't know is stunningly inappropriate.”

In her effort to make amends for her previous article, Setrakian turns nearly the entire piece over to Fairstein, who rips Nifong’s misdeeds, while questioning his motives and challenging the veracity of the accuser.

"For Fairstein, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong's biggest mistake in his handling of the case was a lack of tough questions — and a lack of effort to ask them. Nifong's first known meeting with the accuser was at least nine months after her initial accusations.

"There's no excuse for the way this prosecution has proceeded," she said. "The shocking aspect of that to me is that Nifong only met with her once or twice. He himself had not done a sit down interview once he learned that the initial allegations seemed to be inconsistent."

"Trust, but Verify

"Fairstein said a prosecutor should take the accuser's story seriously but view it with a critical eye.

"You have to take that story, prove it occurred, and prove that it's these men who did it," she said.

"Building a case, said Fairstein, means considering the accuser's story in light of the evidence at hand. That, she said, did not happen here.

"It seems to me that she was embraced by the prosecutor and his team immediately. They coddled her and took her side in this," Fairstein said.

"Fairstein also criticized Nifong for his apparent unwillingness to meet with defense attorneys early on in the case. Lawyers for Seligmann said that Nifong refused their offers to discuss evidence of an alibi — materials including ATM photos, phone records and testimonial evidence.

"You don't turn anybody away who's offering you information," Fairstein stressed.

"Fairstein was also surprised that Nifong was not alarmed by the lack of physical evidence, given the graphic nature of the accuser's charges. She describes being violently raped, sodomized and forced to perform oral sex. She told investigators that her alleged assailants did not wear condoms.

"While having DNA evidence is a luxury, no such evidence was found linking lacrosse players to the accuser's body or clothing. "It's a contact crime — not a stabbing or a drive-by shooting. You'd expect something to be left by the contact between two bodies," said Fairstein.

"Rape kit samples did, however, show traces of DNA from five to nine unidentified men — facts that were not revealed to the defense when they were first discovered and that Fairstein said should have slowed down the case.

Setrakian concludes her article with Fairstein, “a pioneer in the field and an advocate of victims' rights,” noting the damage done to future genuine victims by Nifong’s hijacking of the Hoax.

"Whatever the outcome, Fairstein worries about the impact of the Duke lacrosse case on rape prosecutions around the country. Her concern is that the high-profile investigation will inhibit aggressive prosecution of sexual assault cases.
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"If there is a dismissal there will be many more people who encounter rape in the future with greater skepticism. It will reinforce the stereotype that many of these rapes are false reports."
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"As a prosecutor, Fairstein said, "you have to acknowledge that [false] accusations do happen — though they are less than 10 percent of reported rapes.
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"That, said Fairstein, is why you need to figure out the true story early on, asking tough questions and figuring out what reasons, if any, explain the missing or inconsistent evidence.
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"You're looking to do justice before you go to court — and certainly before you get an indictment."
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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alex, Mike and Mercer would have certainly handled this differently!

Jen

Anonymous said...

Any ideas on why the about face from Setrakian?

The first article should never have had published the last three pages (as outlined already by LieStoppers).

The second article is the message that Nancy Grace, et al, should have been making all along (but they don't).

Huzzah for Fairstein! A reasonable voice comes through at last.

Anonymous said...

is this article paving the way for a press conference on the steps of the AG's office late Friday afternoon ?

Anonymous said...

At last, a reporter who looks at the facts!!!!!!!

bill anderson said...

"Fairstein also criticized Nifong for his apparent unwillingness to meet with defense attorneys early on in the case. Lawyers for Seligmann said that Nifong refused their offers to discuss evidence of an alibi — materials including ATM photos, phone records and testimonial evidence.

"You don't turn anybody away who's offering you information," Fairstein stressed.


Compare Fairstein's remarks to those of Lester Munson of Sports Illustrated, who immediately accused Reade of "obstruction of justice." While I am glad to see ABC News at least attempting to have some objectivity and skepticism, at the same time, do not forget that it was ABC that breathlessly "broke the story" of the supposed "DNA match" with David Evans and the fake fingernails.

Apparently, ABC was so anxious to seek verification for the charges that it trumpeted "evidence" that any decent statistician would have said means absolutely nothing, given the facts of the case and the facts of how the "match" took place.

(There also was a "match" with 14 other people, too, since the nails were in a trash can. This DNA-transfer is not even close to being a match, yet ABC tried to tell us it was.)

Yes, I finally am glad to see the news organizations get on board, but I always will remember that they were the biggest enablers of Nifong in those early days.

Anonymous said...

Setrakian never really backed off the assertions in her first article that Mangum was not cooperating with the SP's. After Cooper came out with his denial, it was added into the article, but the rest of the article went unchanged. I suspected at the time (and still do) that the SP's interviews with Mangum have occurred with Mangum's attorney present, and Cooper's denial of the ABC non-cooperation story was designed to make sure that Mangum's attorney did not cancel the remaining interview(s) the SP's had scheduled with Mangum.

I don't think anyone is surprised that Mangum has been unable to give "complete" answers. How exactly would one give detailed answers about an event that never actually occurred, especially when there is a mountain of physical evidence and credible witness testimony that proves it didn't occur?

Kudos to Linda Fairstein for pointing out the obvious: that Nifong is a fool who took Mangum's story and ran with it, not because it had any credibility, but because it suited his own agenda -- which had absolutely nothing to do with promoting justice. I guess that's the difference between a lawyer trained at the University of Virginia law school (Fairstein) and one from UNC.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the reason for the follow-up article is the fact that many bloggers (like myself) contacted ABC News and voiced their outrage.

I emailed them and they replied saying they were considering the points I made about the one-sidedness of the article. I sent a copy of my correspondence with ABC News to Liestoppers.

I have never written to a news organization in the past, but the piece was so over the top in making excuses for the changing testimony of the accuser in this case that I couldn't bite my tongue.

I'm glad to see they brought some objectivity back to their reporting.

Mike Lee

scott said...

It is obvious that Mangum is now stonewalling because she is finally facing some legitimate questioning by the SPs. The SPs have no choice as their actions are being viewed under a microscope given what has happened in this case.

Nifong, Wilson, Gottlieb, Himan, and others who were in on the hoax had mollycoddled her for 9 months. None of them should continue to be employed in Law Enforcement. Even a dim bulb like Mangum could detect a shift in the wind once the SPs took over. She finally started observing the first law of holes -- when you're in one, quit digging.

And isn't Fairstein a breath of fresh air. Why didn't the media use her as a legal expert instead of "legal expert" hacks like Murphy, Goslee, and Munson? Oh, I just remembered ... her views don't mesh with the media's. No flames would have been fanned; no hoax would have been furthered; no meta-narrative would have been advanced.

scott said...

It is obvious that Mangum is now stonewalling because she is finally facing some legitimate questioning by the SPs. The SPs have no choice as their actions are being viewed under a microscope given what has happened in this case.

Nifong, Wilson, Gottlieb, Himan, and others who were in on the hoax had mollycoddled her for 9 months. None of them should continue to be employed in Law Enforcement. Even a dim bulb like Mangum could detect a shift in the wind once the SPs took over. She finally started observing the first law of holes -- when you're in one, quit digging.

And isn't Fairstein a breath of fresh air. Why didn't the media use her as a legal expert instead of "legal expert" hacks like Murphy, Goslee, and Munson? Oh, I just remembered ... her views don't mesh with the media's. No flames would have been fanned; no hoax would have been furthered; no meta-narrative would have been advanced.

Jim said...

Sorry I missed Farstein's comments. I've been a fan of her fiction for some time now and found her writing to be level headed. I have no reason to think her legal work to be any different. And I did enjoy the comment about Alex, Mike and Mercer!

lm said...

"Whatever the outcome, Fairstein worries about the impact of the Duke lacrosse case on rape prosecutions around the country. Her concern is that the high-profile investigation will inhibit aggressive prosecution of sexual assault cases."

Already a factor? Fox has a video clip with Judge Napolitano discussing a rape case in which the victim was murdered by the man she accused of raping her. Apparantly, the judge and police did not take her seriously and just when one is about to think "What!?!" they mention that she waited nine months to accuse. Not only did the judge on the case and the police not believe the woman, I couldn't help but think perhaps this was a revenge accusation and the man knew he would end up in prison just on her word. So he decides to make sure she is not enjoying freedom while he rots in prison. It is no longer easy to be quick with the outrage response.....could this heinous crime have been the desperate act of a man without the resources to battle a false accusation? A man with nothing to lose?
Fairstein is right to be concerned. False accusers are hurting real rape victims...robbing them of credibility. It is not required that everyone be believed in order for some to be believed. Victim advocates and other enablers who stretched the bounds of credulity trying to support the fantasies of Crystal have no one but themselves to blame.