A judge dismissed assault and weapons charges against a teenager Tuesday and in the process admonished the district attorney's chief investigator for intimidating a witness.
The issue before Judge Orlando Hudson was whether Breon Jerrard Beatty, 18, could get a fair trial on charges that stemmed from a shooting in August.
Bob Brown, the defense lawyer representing the teen, complained that Linwood Wilson, a tall, hulking man who has been the district attorney's chief investigator since December 2005, threatened a witness charged in the same incident to the point where irreparable damage had been done to Beatty.
At several points in the hearing, Hudson and Brown each referred in disparaging terms to the lacrosse case and to District Attorney Mike Nifong, whose handling of the case has him facing career-threatening ethics charges before the State Bar.
"The Duke lacrosse case opened a window into the Durham District Attorney's Office and how they operate," said Joseph B. Cheshire V, one of the defense lawyers in that case. "That window allowed not only the public to look in, but it allowed judges to look in. Hopefully that will continue for the transparency of justice"[Beatty's cousin, Chasaray] Newman pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm. Through a plea arrangement made with the District Attorney's Office, Newman was given probation if he agreed to testify truthfully in the trial against his cousin.
In March, however, Newman gave a different account of what happened in August.
At a meeting with Wilson, the district attorney's chief investigator, Newman allegedly said he was the shooter, not his cousin.
Wilson, according to a written statement that was read in court Tuesday, told Newman that the District Attorney's Office could revoke his plea; in fact, only a judge can do so.
Wilson also told Newman that he would schedule another meeting, one in which he could have a lawyer present.
"What the state was attempting to do was threaten this witness to get him to change his story," Brown told the judge.
Wilson denied those allegations, as did David Saacks, the assistant district attorney handling the case.
But in approving the motion to dismiss the charges, Hudson said he agreed with Brown's characterization that Wilson had "threatened" Newman.
In the Duke lacrosse case, Cheshire and other defense lawyers made similar complaints -- that witnesses who could offer testimony that conflicted with the prosecutor's version of events were brought in on old warrants and intimidated by Wilson.
"This happens all the time," Brown said after the hearing. "What's different in this case is the particular threat that was made to the witness -- this time they put it in writing."
Durham's top judge ruled Tuesday that the District Attorney's Office used illegal witness intimidation to manipulate a shooting case against documented gang member Breon Beatty, meaning the charges against Beatty must be dismissed unless prosecutors mount a successful appeal.While Blythe and Stevenson mention the intimidation of Elmo as an instance of Wilson's shady tactics to manipulate the fraudulent case against the Duke Innocents, the arrest and failed prosecution of the Good Samaritan was not Wilson's only affront to justice in the Hoax. In a recent article, Joseph Neff of the News & Observer detailed several bad acts by the rogue prosecutor's chief "intimidator."
Superior Court Judge Orlando F. Hudson accepted an argument that the alleged intimidation, coupled with a threat, unconstitutionally deprived Beatty of a witness in his favor.
A DA's Office investigator linked to the alleged intimidation was Linwood Wilson, who played a key investigative role in the now-dismissed Duke University lacrosse sexual offense case. The DA's Office in that case was also accused by attorneys for since-exonerated lacrosse players of pressuring a witness, something Wilson insisted at the time was not true.
Regarding the DA's Office's behavior in the Beatty case, Beatty's lawyer, Bob Brown, said: "That is tampering with a witness. That is intimidation of a witness. If it was me as a defense attorney making these threats, I would be arrested. It is wrong. It is illegal."
Brown contended Tuesday that [Assistant District Attorney David] Saacks and Wilson then applied improper pressure on Newman by threatening to have his probation revoked. It was a thinly veiled attempt to make him change his story and implicate Beatty once again, according to Brown.
Wilson was summoned to the witness stand Tuesday to explain the situation.
He acknowledged he had mentioned probation revocation to Newman, something that would have sent Newman to prison.
Was Wilson aware the District Attorney's Office was not empowered to unilaterally terminate someone's probation, Brown demanded.
"I wasn't aware the DA did not have the authority to do that," the investigator replied. "I was under the impression the state did have that authority."
Brown: "You threatened him [Newman], didn't you?"
Wilson: "That's your words. I didn't threaten him at all."
And what about Wilson's demeanor and tone of voice when he talked to Newman, Brown wanted to know.
"You weren't joking?" he asked.
Wilson: "Absolutely not."
Brown: "You meant for him to take it as a very serious matter?"
Wilson: "Of course."
Brown said the conduct of the prosecution team toward Newman was analogous to tactics used last year by the DA's Office in the Duke lacrosse case against Moezeldin Ahmed Elmostafa, a taxicab driver who was served with a three-year-old criminal warrant after he became an alibi witness for one of the lacrosse defendants.
In late August of last year, Wilson, District Attorney Mike Nifong's investigator, denied that the shoplifting case was used to pressure Elmostafa.
"There ain't no truth in that," he insisted.
Linwood Wilson has been Mike Nifong's go-to guy.
In May, he orchestrated the arrest of Moezeldin Elmostafa, the taxi driver who attested to Reade Seligmann's alibi.
In July, he came up with a new statement from Kim Roberts, the second dancer at the March 13 party. When first contacted by police, Roberts said the rape allegations were a "crock."
According to Wilson, that account changed July 24, when Roberts and her attorney visited Nifong. Roberts was facing possible prison time on a probation violation.
As Roberts' attorney met with Nifong, Roberts sat in a conference room. When Wilson popped in to say hello, Roberts volunteered new details, saying for the first time that Crystal Gail Mangum was in the bathroom with players.
"I need to tell you guys that I have thought about the time frame that night," Roberts said, according to Wilson's account. "I had originally said I wasn't away from her [Mangum] for more than 5 minutes but after thinking about it and what all I did it was more like 15 minutes or maybe a little more.
"...When I got inside I went into the master bedroom where some guys were watching TV and I could hear her [Crystal] in the bathroom with some guys, you know the door was open slightly I started to go in but one of the guys stepped in front of me. I told her I was leaving you know, through the door, and I turned around and went back to my car."
In the fall, Wilson sought to mitigate damage from a video broadcast on "60 Minutes" in October. The video showed Mangum doing an athletic pole dance March 25 at the Platinum Club in Hillsborough.
The images of her dancing just days after an alleged rape were damaging. Nifong had told a judge that Mangum was so traumatized in April that she couldn't speak.
Wilson's records show that he tracked down the club owner and manager; both witnesses gave Wilson sworn statements -- and both later changed them.
Club owner Victor Olatoye said Mangum hadn't worked since February 2006. Olatoye later checked his records and amended his statement; Mangum had danced in March, he said, and was signed in as a dancer March 25.
Club manager Yolanda Haynes remembered that day. In a Nov. 16 interview, Wilson showed Haynes an 8-second video clip of a woman dancing at the Platinum Club. Wilson tried to convince Haynes the dancer was a woman named "Tickles."
Haynes said it was Mangum dancing March 25, according to her sworn statement given to defense lawyer Bill Thomas.
Haynes' statement also says that Wilson pressured her to change her account of Mangum's bizarre behavior of March 11, two days before the lacrosse party.
Haynes said Mangum made an unwanted pass at a female customer, went to a back room, took off all her clothes and passed out. As Haynes and others helped carry her to a car, Mangum vomited and the employees dropped her on the gravel parking lot. Haynes said this could have caused the bruises and scratches on Mangum's feet and legs noted at the Duke Hospital emergency room.
Wilson repeatedly told Haynes that she was wrong and that he had a video to prove Mangum wasn't at the Platinum Club on March 11. "Although I was never shown the video tape by Investigator Wilson, I did not believe he would lie to me," Haynes wrote. She signed her original statement without reading it.
Later she amended her statement and swore the incident transpired March 11.
In June, accomplice Wilson interrupted a defense press conference to insist that false accuser Crystal Mangum had not offered several versions of the crime that never occurred. In a June article, Ben Niolet and Joseph Neff of the News & Observer described Wilson's effort to disguise the wildly altered stories, and the stinging rebuke issued in return by Joe Cheshire.
Hours after a March 13 Duke University lacrosse team party, the woman who said players raped her that night told police changing stories.
An officer at Duke Hospital wrote in a report released Friday that the accuser said she was one of four women who danced at the party; every other account of that night says only two women danced.
The woman said that night that five men sexually assaulted her; District Attorney Mike Nifong and investigators have said there were three.
Durham police officer G.D. Sutton noted that the woman also said at one point that she had not been raped. "While being interviewed at Duke, her story changed several times," the officer wrote in a report.
That document was attached to a letter that a defense attorney sent to an investigator in Nifong's office Friday and copied to reporters. The day before, the investigator, Linwood Wilson, interrupted lawyer Joseph B. Cheshire V as he talked at a news conference Thursday after Nifong gave hundreds of pages of evidence to defense attorneys. Wilson asked to see the document that stated the woman had changed her story.
"Since you are the District Attorney's Investigator, the press could have assumed -- falsely, as it turns out -- that you had actually read your file," Cheshire wrote in his letter to Wilson. "I can only assume your motivation in questioning my assertion was simply ignorance. A simple reading of your file might solve that problem in the future."
In September, Wilson, at the direction of Defendant Nifong, produced unsigned statements from the three Durham police officers present during the April 11, 2006, meeting between Nifong and Mangum. Conveniently, the unsigned police statements produced by Wilson contradict at least one of the officer's original notes, while supporting the rogue prosecutor's unbelievable contention that the there was no discussion of the case at that meeting.
On April 11, Nifong met with Mangum and his investigators. The district attorney had serious problems going into the meeting: Records show that Mangum had given a half-dozen or more accounts that conflicted. She had picked out four attackers April 4 but had told police and doctors that three men attacked her. She said Evans, who was clean-shaven, had a mustache. And her April responses differed from all of her March responses.The transcript of the September 22, 2006 hearing details Nifong's account of his henchman's production of the unsigned police statements that supported his incredible claim.
Mangum had said that no condoms were used and that at least one, if not all, of her attackers ejaculated. The SBI found no semen, blood or saliva from what she said was a vicious 30-minute assault. She had told a nurse at Duke she had one drink that evening, but she told doctors at UNC Hospitals that "she was drunk and had a lot of alcohol that night."
All this could have prompted a lot of questions. But Nifong later told a judge that Mangum was too traumatized to speak: "No statements were made by Crystal Mangum, and no questions were asked of her regarding this case, which is a fact."
Nifong later told a judge that he had never discussed the case with her at all.
If you go to page 2030 in the discovery materials, again, Linwood Wilson interviewed Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, Investigator Ben Himan, and Lt. Mark Ripberger -- pardon me, Mike Ripberger, in reference to Defendant's motion to compel, No. 28, meeting among Crystal Mangum, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, Investigator Ben Himan, Lt. Mike Ripberger, and District Attorney Mike Nifong. Gottlieb, Himan, and Ripberger all stated that the meeting was to let everyone know what would be happening next and how the court system would go from this point forward. No statements were made by Crystal Mangum and no questions were asked of her regarding this case, which is a fact.Investigator Wilson's most egregious action in the Hoax occurred last December. With the willing, if impaired, participation of Crystal Mangum, Nifong's fixer produced an incredible new statement from the false accuser that provided a bizarre new version of the Hoax, transparently concocted to weave its implausible way around the overwhelming evidence of factual innocence. Joseph Neff described Wilson's "interview" and the elicited changes in a January article.
I would also state for the Court that one reason that was not done at this particular time is that Ms. Mangum was clearly still so traumatized from this offense that I could not see anything that could be served by even speaking to her about the case. So my representation to Judge Stephens remains true; there were no statements made.
In her latest statement to investigators, the accuser in the Duke lacrosse case again changed her account of when she says she was sexually assaulted, who attacked her and how.Given Wilson's latest attempt to intimidate witnesses and manipulate evidence, it is clear that the Durham County District Attorney's Office remains intent on mooning the system.
In a December interview with Nifong's chief investigator, the woman touches on problems with the case that have surfaced in news reports and court filings: flawed identification procedures, no DNA evidence, and conflicting descriptions of her attackers and what they did to her at a March 13 team party. The new account, however, contradicts the woman's cell phone records, time-stamped photographs of the party, 911 records and all her previous statements.
The woman adjusted the timing of the assault to earlier in the evening, a period before the well-documented alibi of one accused player, Reade Seligmann. The defense, however, introduced more alibi evidence: Seligmann was speaking on a cell phone with his girlfriend during part of the time the accuser now says an attack occurred.
The new account comes from a Dec. 21 interview by Linwood Wilson, Nifong's chief investigator. It was the first time anyone from the District Attorney's Office discussed the case with the woman since charges were filed in April. The interview came less than a week after a private laboratory director testified that he and Nifong agreed not to report DNA evidence favorable to the three accused players.
"Inv. Wilson asked [the accuser] to tell him whose names the guys were using on March 13 2006 since she now knows their real names," Wilson wrote in his typed notes. "This is her answers: Dan, Adam and Brett was used by Dave Evans. Adam and Matt was also used by Reade Seligmann. She does not remember a name being used for Collin Finnerty or if he was called by a name."
The investigator added a handwritten note that "Matt = Finnerty."
The defense lawyers said the aliases were preposterous.
" 'Adam' could be either Reade Seligmann or Dave Evans, while apparently 'Dan' and 'Brett' are both Dave Evans, and it now appears that 'Matt' can only be Reade Seligmann (when he is not 'Adam')," the motion stated. "The handwritten notes -- as opposed to what appears in the typewritten version -- appear to indicate that the accuser may have claimed that Dave Evans had four names, Reade Seligmann had two names (one of which was shared with Dave Evans) and Collin Finnerty had one name (that may have also been shared with Dave Evans)."
Critics, such as Duke law professor James Coleman, said the new document was a blatant attempt to fix a flawed case and called for a criminal investigation of Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong and his staff.
"Who would believe that a witness, nine months later, suddenly recalls facts that coincidentally negate evidence produced by the defense?" said Coleman, who led a Duke committee that investigated the lacrosse team's culture and has criticized Nifong's handling of the case for months.
"These people are almost criminal. It's making a mockery of the system. It's like Nifong is mooning the system. It's contemptuous."
While it is a positive sign that Judge Hudson has finally begun to recognize and act against the dangers presented by the rogue District Attorney and the accomplices within his office, it must be noted that Nifong remains as District Attorney as a direct result of Hudson's unprecedented refusal to act in accordance with the statutory directives of NCGS 7A-66.