Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cooper, Coman, Winstead - Three New Heroes of the Hoax

In a strongly worded statement, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper totally exonerated the three victims of Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong’s hijacked Hoax with an unequivocal declaration of their innocence. Citing the accuser's various stories that contradicted both mountains of evidence and herself, the horrendous rush to judgment and prosecutorial misconduct of District Attorney Nifong, and the comprehensive review and independent investigation undertaken by special prosecutors Jim Coman and Mary Winstead, Cooper announced that all remaining charges against David Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty would be dismissed today. “The cases are over,” Cooper declared firmly, while adding, “No attack occurred.” Cooper also announced that a detailed summary of the case facts would be available next week.

Noting that Defendant Nifong “pushed forward unchecked,” Cooper chided the disgraced prosecutor’s choice of “bravado” over caution, while suggesting that many needed to apologize for their roles in this miscarriage of justice. Cooper further noted that his prosecutors considered bringing charges against the false accuser, who he characterized as possibly believing her own fables as she spun them. Without elaborating, he seemed to connect her mistaken remembrances to undisclosed information found in her sealed medical records. To his credit, Cooper left open the possibility of criminal charges eventually being brought against Defendant Nifong. Stating that he would wait to see what additional information would come out in the State Bar’s hearing, Cooper admitted to a “possibility” of an investigation into the investigation that would result in criminal charges against the DA.

Showing no ill effects from a bout with dehydration yesterday, the Attorney General firmly pronounced the innocence of the true victims of the Hoax and repeatedly emphasized that no attack occurred. Equally firm and convincing was Cooper's placement of responsibility for the Hoax squarely on Defendant Nifong and the false accuser. Without speculating on Nifong’s motives, Cooper declared the “result was wrong” and “tragic.” Repeatedly, Cooper pointed to the charges brought by the State Bar against Defendant Nifong, warning that the Hoax demonstrated the “enormous consequences” of allowing a prosecutor to “push forward unchecked” as Nifong did. With that in mind and citing a need for additional “checks and balances” against rogue prosecutors, Cooper proposed yet another “Nifong Law” that would allow the NC Supreme Court to take a case away from a prosecutor in certain limited circumstances.

Cooper’s decision, which comes after an exhaustive three month investigation led by special prosecutors Jim Coman and Mary Winstead, signals the end of the Hoax that began with a nod of the head on the morning of March 14, 2006. While today’s dismissal of all charges ends the Hoax, it serves as the start of Open Season on Civil Suits and furthers demands for a Department of Justice investigation of Nifong's flawed non-investigation In addition to facing the inevitable civil suits, possible state probe, and probable federal probe, the Hijacker of the Hoax, Defendant Michael B Nifong, enjoys the displeasure of looking forward to the pending disciplinary action from the State Bar and a Superior Court hearing on his removal from office, which is expected to follow Nifong‘s June State Bar trial over his numerous ethical violations.

Text of Roy Cooper's statement:
Good afternoon, everyone.

On Jan. 13 of this year, I accepted the request of the Durham district attorney to take over three Durham cases. At the time, I promised a fresh and thorough review of the facts and a decision on the best way to proceed. I also said that we would have our eyes wide open to the evidence, but that we would have blinders on for all other distractions. We've done all of these things.

During the past 12 weeks, our lawyers and investigators have reviewed the remaining allegations of sexual assault and kidnapping that resulted from a party on March 13, 2006, in Durham, N.C.

We have carefully reviewed the evidence collected by the Durham County prosecutor's office and the Durham Police Department. We have also conducted our own interviews and evidence gathering. Our attorneys and SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) agents have interviewed numerous people who were at the party, DNA and other experts, the Durham County district attorney, Durham police officers, defense attorneys and the accusing witness on several occasions. We have reviewed statements given over the past year, photographs, records and other evidence.

The result of our review and investigation shows clearly that there is insufficient evidence to proceed on any of the charges. Today we are filing notices of dismissal for all charges against Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans.

The result is that these cases are over, and no more criminal proceedings will occur.

We believe that these cases were the result of a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations. Based on the significant inconsistencies between the evidence and the various accounts given by the accusing witness, we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges.

We approached this case with the understanding that rape and sexual assault victims often have some inconsistencies in their accounts of a traumatic event. However, in this case, the inconsistencies were so significant and so contrary to the evidence that we have no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house that night.

The prosecuting witness in this case responded to questions and offered information. She did want to move forward with the prosecution.

However, the contradictions in her many versions of what occurred and the conflicts between what she said occurred and other evidence, like photographs and phone records, could not be rectified.

Our investigation shows that:

The eyewitness identification procedures were faulty and unreliable. No DNA confirms the accuser's story. No other witness confirms her story. Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself. Next week, we'll be providing a written summary of the important factual findings and some of the specific contradictions that have led us to the conclusion that no attack occurred.

In this case, with the weight of the state behind him, the Durham district attorney pushed forward unchecked. 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. Regardless of the reasons this case was pushed forward, the result was wrong. Today, we need to learn from this and keep it from happening again to anybody.

Now, we have good district attorneys in North Carolina who are both tough and fair. And we need these forceful, independent prosecutors to put criminals away and protect the public. But we also need checks and balances to protect the innocent. This case shows the enormous consequences of overreaching by a prosecutor. What has been learned here is that the internal checks on a criminal charge—sworn statements, reasonable grounds, proper suspect photo lineups, accurate and fair discovery—all are critically important.

Therefore, I propose a law that the North Carolina Supreme Court have the authority to remove a case from a prosecutor in limited circumstances. This would give the courts a new tool to deal with a prosecutor who needs to step away from a case where justice demands.

I want to thank everyone in the North Carolina Department of Justice. I want to thank our investigators, our SBI agents and especially attorneys Jim Coman and Mary Winstead for their hard work in this matter.
Initial media reports:

AM New York:
The attorney general of North Carolina Wednesday dropped all charges against three Duke lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting a stripper at a team party, saying he believed they were innocent.

"We have no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said during a news conference in Raleigh. "There is insufficient evidence to proceed on any of the charges."

“Cooper characterized District Attorney Michael Nifong's decision to prosecute as "a tragic rush to accuse."
News & Observer:
Prosecutors dropped all charges Wednesday against the three Duke lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting a stripper at a party, saying the athletes were innocent victims of a "tragic rush to accuse" by an overreaching district attorney.

"There were many points in the case where caution would have served justice better than bravado," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a damning assessment of Durham County District Mike Nifong's handling of the sensational case.

the attorney general said the eyewitness identification procedures were unreliable, no DNA supported the woman's story, no other witness corroborated it, and the woman contradicted herself.

"Based on the significant inconsistencies between the evidence and the various accounts given by the accusing witness, we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges," Cooper said.

He said the charges resulted from a "tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations."
Cooper called for the passage of a state law that would allow the North Carolina Supreme Court to remove a prosecutor "who needs to step away from a case where justice demands."

"This case shows the enormous consequences of overreaching by a prosecutor," he said.
Responses to the the dismissal of charges:
"It's huge. [Cooper] couldn't have offered the defendants a stronger vindication" -- Yale Galanter

"I will always believe in the back of my mind that something happened in that house that wasn't quite right." -- Georgia Goslee
"Since we haven't gone through a normal legal process, we don't know what really happened. The fact the charges were dropped doesn't mean nothing happened. It just means information wasn't collected appropriately enough to go forward.” -- Duke biology professor Sheryl Broverman

"No more media, no more talk. I'm happy to be relieved from everything." — Moezeldin Elmostafa, the cab driver who bolstered the alibi of Duke lacrosse player Reade Seligmann and was then arrested on a 3-year-old shoplifting warrant that ended in acquittal.

"I hope people who experience sexual violence in any form feel comfortable calling for help ... and know that each case is different, and they can seek help when they've been violated." — Margaret Barrett, executive director, Orange County Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill.

"High profile criminal cases dramatically increase the press coverage and public curiosity. This creates an environment in which there is an incredible amount of pressure for the public, press and decision makers to rush to judgment. The responsibility and duty of a prosecutor is to deliberately assess the case presented, evaluate the evidence and witnesses and then make a determination as to how to proceed in the case so as to attempt to obtain justice for the public, alleged victims and the defendant. The prosecutors of this state grapple with thousands of decisions involving these issues on a daily basis. We are confident that Deputy Attorney General Coman and Mary Winstead have diligently conducted their analysis of the Duke lacrosse cases and acted accordingly." — statement from the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.

“Although vindication has been far too long in coming, today is, indeed, a day for great joy.” Mike McCusker, Crystal Mess

"We respect the integrity of the Attorney General’s investigation and supported the involvement of special prosecutors. If his office believes the state lacks sufficient evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that all the elements of each crime took place, then it is the state’s constitutional duty to dismiss the charges. ... Now, as we have repeatedly said, comes the hard part. How do we proceed toward the healing places in our communities and our hearts? Long after the television vans with their saucer antennas have pulled out of Durham, long after the bloggers have grown weary from typing, those of us who believe in freedom and justice can not rest. How do we work to ensure that the final decisions in this case in no way deter women of color from making claims of violations against them which violate their spirits and their bodies?" — statement from William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP

"It was clear to me and a lot of other people that [Nifong] used this case to win the election. The sad thing about it is that it worked. I found that to be very discouraging about the political process. ... He had no name recognition before this case. I don't think anybody outside the courthouse knew who he was." -- Freda Black, a former Durham prosecutor who narrowly lost the 2005 Democratic primary for district attorney to Nifong.

"I think the district attorney went to the grand jury far sooner than he should have. If the district attorney had waited and gathered more information and tried to understand it, I think he would have had a better understanding of what the case was, and what is was not. On the other hand, he did have someone that said she was sexually assaulted, and that creates evidence in itself." — Lewis Cheek, Durham County commissioner who lent his name to a campaign last November to unseat Nifong

“In light of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's dismissal of all criminal charges against the three men, it is clear that this matter now cries out for oversight. I again urge ... a federal investigation to review Mr. Nifong's conduct to determine if it constitutes prosecutorial misconduct and has denied these students their civil rights as U.S. citizens under federal law.” — U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican whose district includes part of eastern North Carolina

“..." - - Nancy Grace
Next up for Defendant Nifong:

On Friday, the State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Committee will hear oral arguments on Defendant Nifong’s motion to dismiss two of the several charges filed against him. Apparently not expecting much of an argument, the State Bar has scheduled the hearing for 4:00pm on Friday. The hearing at the State Bar’s offices in Raleigh is open to the public.


Anonymous said...

Jesus, Broverman, get with the program. There is not a need for a "normal legal process." The AG's office has determined that there was no credibility to the charge, and the boys should not have been arrested. The charges were not just dropped -- the guys were deemed to be the victims of an overzealous DA and a false accuser and to be INNOCENT of the charges. Get it straight before you pontificate!

Anonymous said...

The state's attorney general says the three are innocent. He is the highest legal authority in North Carolina.

One of the race baiting professors says that this doesn't mean nothing happened and that there just isn't enough evidence to move forward.

Innocent from the AG, or not enough evidence from a professor? Hmmm, who to believe here?

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

Actually, had this been a "normal legal process" from the beginning, this case would have ended months ago, and the false accuser may have ended up in a coat hugging herself all day. I wish this had been a "normal legal process." Then, the three innocent young men and their families and friends would not have been subjected to the living Hell they experienced over the course of the last thirteen months. "Normal legal process" my left nut...

Anonymous said...

Carolyn says:

"For those who believe, no words are necessary. For those who do not, none are possible."

"I truly believe people are good at heart."

A priest defending Bernadette of Lourdes and Anne Frank defending hope during WWII are proof of the power of belief. It all comes down to your choice of what that is.

Crystal made her choice. Nifong made his. Broverman and Goslee have now made theirs.

I made mine after reading the choice of an unknown woman in a town I've never visited. Thank you, Joan Foster.

Anonymous said...

1. a prosecutor cannot declare one innocent; only a jury of the person's peers can find a person innocent. Cooper was dismissing because of insufficient evidence, which is different.

2.a bout of dehydration? is that what you call it when you go to the hospital several times in one day? maybe it was more like a stress reaction for Cooper because he knew with this "innocent" crap statement that he is flushing his political career down the toilet. Newsflash Cooper: dukies and and the Lacrosse crowd do not carry elections down here and you will need the black vote to be governor but you are not going to get it!

Anonymous said...

Re the 2:13 post. No Jury's do not find people "innocent." They find people "not guilty." This would be subject to the same slings you are throwing at the AG saying the former Defendant's are "innocent." A "Not Guilty" verdict should issue where there is insuffient evidence to convict a criminal defendant.

I sincerely hope the accuser gets help. From what we now know she appears to be a disturbed young woman.