The most powerful response comes from the state’s largest newspaper, the Charlotte Observer. In July, the Observer urged appointment of a special prosecutor; now, it correctly maintains, “It's time for an investigation of the investigation by the prosecution.”
The paper’s editorial board notes that the dismissal of the rape charge “came, conveniently, after the discovery that Mr. Nifong might have asked a DNA lab to selectively report its findings.” It concludes, “This latest twist leads you to conclude either (a) Mr. Nifong has been misled by an uncertain or unreliable witness; (b) he is incompetent; (c) he skillfully manipulated a case charged with racial and class overtones in an election year where he faced a challenge; or, (d) all of the above.”
(d) would seem like the correct answer.
The News-Record is incredulous that the prosecution’s office would wait nine months to speak with the accuser, at which time she changed her story yet again. (To my knowledge, the accuser has never told the same story twice at any point in this case.) But, the editors astutely observe, “Nifong’s biggest problem is the means by which the defendants were identified.” The D.A. musings of “What is a lineup?” seem unlikely to persuade any judge.
Finally, the N&O editorial page—after months of silence, in which it ignored its own first-rate reporting—confronts Nifong’s misconduct. The newly “revised account of the alleged rape,” the editors reason,
continues to point up problems with how Nifong has pursued this case. His first statements, made to television reporters with national audiences, included iron-clad assurances that a rape had occurred and that the defendants were guilty. Those statements about the men seemed to cross the line of prosecutorial propriety.
Then it turned out, as The News & Observer reported, that the D.A. had never interviewed the dancer about the events of that March evening, a puzzling fact given the certainty with which Nifong seemed to vouch for her truthfulness. The photo lineup in which the woman identified her alleged attackers included photographs only of lacrosse team members, a violation of
's photo ID policy and clearly skewed against the players. Durham
After laying out the case against Nifong, however, the N&O concludes in a bizarre fashion. “The accuser,” the editorial asserts, “if she can offer a coherent account and stand by it, deserves to have her allegations heard in court.” This assertion is absurd: police and prosecutors are supposed to exercise discretion, rather than pass on any and all non-credible accusations for a jury to decide. In this case, the accuser/Nifong have presented at least 10 versions of events, with the two most recent changes (a shortening of the timeline, elimination of the rape charge) blatant manipulations of the story to fit new, exculpatory evidence.
“From here on out,” the N&O reasons, “Nifong needs to be fair and cold-eyed in evaluating evidence as it continues to come to light and in assessing the strength of his case.” Based on his conduct over the last nine months, is there any reason—any reason at all—to presume that Nifong is capable of acting in a “fair” fashion?