News & Observer:
In Nifong's excuse-studded "apology" to the former Duke athletes on Thursday, he declared that Cooper's staff had access to important evidence that he had not. We hope Nifong wasn't suggesting that the details of Mangum's rocky history were among that evidence. A cursory look -- the minimum requirement when such serious allegations are made -- should have turned up enough information to cause Nifong and investigators to view Mangum's account with an appropriate degree of skepticism.
Of course, someone with a troubled past and several brushes with the law can still be the victim of a crime. A district attorney has to seek justice in every instance, and in this case Nifong may have felt special sympathy for Mangum's situation. But available facts should have given him pause before he proceeded to have the three students charged. Combined with all the inconsistencies in her accounts and the lack of physical evidence, Mangum's background at least should have given the district attorney reason to question how credible she would appear to a jury.
If he was aware of all this, he seems to have disregarded the facts in a rush to take the case to court.
Nifong might have shed valuable light on this sorry episode had he addressed in his apology why he believed Mangum. Or if he had explored whether he had been too caught up in the community feeling against Duke students' off-campus parties and athletes' alcohol-related arrests. Too late, though. Now, his future as a lawyer lies with the State Bar, which has accused him of ethics violations that could cost him his law license.
That could turn into a long, grueling fight. Nifong will be preoccupied, and the DA's office could be in turmoil for the duration. Regardless of the outcome, his credibility as Durham's top justice official will have been undermined.
Under the circumstances, Nifong ought to consider whether to remain in the office to which he was elected last fall for a four-year term. If the State Bar relieves him of his license, that obviously will become a moot point. But even if any disciplinary steps fall well short of that penalty, it's hard to see how the district attorney can continue to function effectively. His resignation now would serve the public interest.
Attorney General Roy Cooper didn't mince words Wednesday when he described his investigation into the Duke lacrosse case.
"We believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges," he said.Last week, Defendant Nifong's attorney, David Freedman suggested that the disgraced prosecutor had no intention of resigning from the office he sold his soul to occupy for the next four years. With the area's two major dailies and a growing number of community leaders calling for his resignation, Nifong's refusal to step down is a repeat of the arrogant insistence that defined his blatant attempt to send innocent men to jail with his Hoax. Both the Herald Sun and the News & Observer fail to note that disbarment will not remove Nifong from office. Rather, the loss of his law license will only prohibit him from functioning as District Attorney leave Durham County without a functional top prosecutor.
With that, Cooper cleared former Duke lacrosse players David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann of charges of sexual assault and kidnapping stemming from a party on Buchanan Boulevard in March 2006.
"Innocent" was a strong word, one we're sure Cooper chose carefully. It meant, as Duke University President Richard Brodhead pointed out, that this wasn't just a technicality -- this was exoneration. After three months of investigation, state attorneys Jim Coman and Mary Winstead found that Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann were innocent of any crime. The dark cloud of the past 13 months was lifted.
The defendants and their families must feel a tremendous sense of relief. There will be no trial, no possibility of prison. The three young men can get on with their lives, although this incident is sure to be with them in one way or another as long as they live.
As unequivocally as Cooper cleared the players, he was equally blunt in criticizing Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Cooper's words were simple and to the point, and could hardly have been more damning.
"With the weight of the state behind him, the Durham district attorney pushed forward unchecked," Cooper said. "There were many points in the case where caution would have served justice better than bravado. And in the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly. .... We need to learn from this and keep it from happening again to anybody."
"This case shows the enormous consequences of overreaching by a prosecutor."
We have questioned Nifong's actions throughout this case, including a stacked photo lineup using only pictures of lacrosse players, when standard procedure is to include unrelated faces as a control. Nifong is also facing ethics charges from the State Bar for statements he made to the media when the case first broke and for withholding DNA evidence beneficial to the defendants.
But Cooper's simple statement cut to the heart of prosecutorial misconduct. Nifong, he said, pressed on with the case without a credible witness or credible evidence. To hear that about a prosecutor with 28 years of experience was shocking.
It is bound to raise questions about what other cases have been pursued improperly by the Durham DA's office. How many defendants without the resources to hire energetic attorneys have been sent quietly off to prison?
Nifong has been seriously damaged by his own actions, by the charges from the State Bar and now from Cooper's report. His problems could cause ripples through other cases being handled by the Durham DA's office. As a result, we think it will be impossible for Nifong to continue as Durham district attorney.
It's time for him to resign.
Nifong's refusal to do the right thing to serve justice and his community magnifies Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson's failure to comply with the statutory directives of NCGS 7A-66. Had Hudson adhered to the letter of the statute by acting in February, Durham County might already be rid of the rogue prosecutor. Instead, Durham County remains saddled with the stigma of a District Attorney who has come to personify prosecutorial misconduct. If Judge Hudson continues to ignore State Law, Durham County will remain at the mercy of rogue prosecutor unwilling to serve the public interest by stepping down and allowing himself to be replaced by an ethical District Attorney.