After thirteen months of being forced to hang and wave in the winds of North Carolina’s Durham County prosecutorial misconduct, Duke University students and Lacrosse players Reid Seligman, Collin Finnerty and former student Dave Evans have finally been completely vindicated of the false rape and other charges levied against them. Last year, when this bogus case began, there were only a handful of commentators (including yours truly) who appeared to understand that this case was brought to the public by a political hack prosecutor—Mike Nifong—in order to gain election as Durham County District Attorney. Although Nifong had functioned as Durham’s District Attorney since April 2005, he was a political appointment of NC Democrat Governor Mike Easley—after former Durham DA Dan Edwards had resigned. So, 2006 was the first time that Nifong actually had to run for office. And, run he did—on a platform that included the prurient and false charges of ‘rape committed by white guys against an innocent black stripper’ and trumped-up racist-engendered emotions designed to garner Durham’s black voting bloc. His ploy worked and Nifong was successful in his bid for continued prosecutorial power. However, even before this patently rogue prosecutor inveigled a North Carolina Grand Jury to hand down indictments against the Duke students, trouble was a-brewin’.
On 10 April 2006, the NC State Crime Lab delivered the DNA results for forty-six members of the Duke Lacrosse team to DA Nifong. The results showed that none of these Duke students’ DNA appeared on or in the person of accuser Crystal Gail Mangum. Was it at this point, or at some point prior to the results being delivered, that Nifong saw both his case against the Duke students and his chances of winning the district attorney position slipping away? No one except Mr. Nifong can, currently, answer that question. But, we do know that if Nifong affected his required legal obligation of presenting this evidence that would exonerate the students he, quite possibly, would not win his election. Instead, he still went before the grand jury—also clandestinely withholding the exculpatory evidence from them—in order to gain prosecutions against the students. The jury, then, handed down its indictments against Reid Seligman and Collin Finnerty on 17 April.
But, Nifong did not care for the DNA exculpatory results provided by the state lab. So, in an attempt to bolster his case against the students, he sought out a private lab—DNA Security. The head of DNA Security, Dr. Brian Meehan, confirmed and concurred with the NC state lab’s results. However, it also found sperm samples that had been contained within the accuser’s person—from other unknown contributors. Nifong also failed to disclose this information. In December 2006, Dr. Meehan advised in a court hearing that he and DA Nifong had agreed to keep the exculpatory evidence secret—which Meehan acknowledged violated his own company’s protocols. This covert decision made by the two men also violated NC’s Open Discovery Law and the Supreme Court’s Brady Law. No matter. Nifong was running for election and he intended to win! The reputations of the falsely indicted young men were of little to no concern to him. Besides, unless he could ruin them his own political career might suffer. Could he take the chance? Apparently not. So Nifong forged ahead with full knowledge that he had falsely charged the students and then suppressed vital vindicating evidence.
To say that Nifong’s actions entailed prosecutorial misconduct is placing his behaviors in the mildest of terms. What this rogue prosecutor executed was nothing less than patently criminal acts—acts for which he should most certainly be incarcerated. Prosecutorial immunity does not allow for crimes committed under the cloak, authority and protection of office. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said it well, when he stated: “These cases were the tragic result of a rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations. There were many points in the case where caution would have served justice better than bravado. I think a lot of people owe a lot of apologies to a lot of people. 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. This case shows the enormous consequences of overreaching by a prosecutor.” Cooper also said that Nifong’s actions were a “tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations.”
Personal Note: Whether they can use the money or not, I sincerely hope that the falsely indicted students will file a civil suit against all of the individuals and institutions that were instrumental in fabricating this case, intimidating defense corroborative witnesses and (with apparent malice of forethought) suppressing evidence that would have exculpated the accused. A message needs to be sent to all of those who hold judicial influence over the rest of us that breaching the law will result in their own indictments. At this juncture, suing for monetary compensation is what wronged citizens are allowed. In this case, Nifong should also—as well as being disbarred—be tried for his criminal endeavors. It’s both the ethical and necessary course of action.
Sher Zieve is a long-time syndicated columnist who generally writes columns of a politically Conservative and Constitutional nature. She also interviews notable people with an interesting and/or newsworthy story to tell. These include politicians, writers, activists and others in the news. Her work has been and continues to be carried by both national and international publications. Sher appears regularly on national talk shows.