There are some figures about whose performance on the case it’s easy to pass moral judgment: Mike Nifong. Mark Gottlieb. Wahneema Lubiano.
But other actors bequeathed a more mixed legacy. Take, for instance, Ben Himan. Himan was critical in obtaining the fraudulent March 23 non-testimonial order—which started the whole case in motion. And he was willing to carry Nifong’s water as the only officer to testify before the grand jury that indicted Dave Evans.
Yet, in sharp contrast to Gottlieb, Himan did take—and turn over—handwritten notes. And, whether by accident or design, he was excluded from the two highest-profile instances of law enforcement malpractice in the case—the April 4, 2006 lineup, and Linwood Wilson’s December interview with Crystal Mangum.
Moreover, while some members of the DPD continued their corruption (Gottlieb); others maintained the “hear-no-evil/see-no-evil approach (Hodge, Chalmers); and still others retreated behind the blue wall of silence (Soucie, Clayton), Himan worked to redeem himself. From all accounts, he performed professionally during the AG’s inquiry, vindicating the office’s decision to employ him as the only
Himan’s testimony before the Disciplinary Hearing Committee provided one of the high points of Nifong’s ethics trial:
And in Nifong’s just-concluded contempt trial, Himan again provided critical testimony. Although he admitted that he didn’t particularly understand the specifics of the DNA discussions with Dr. Brian Meehan, he did recall one highly significant item: Meehan told Nifong and him that the DNA tests hadn’t just revealed existence of unidentified males, but they had revealed four unidentified males. Nifong conceded the point.
Himan’s testimony proved that Nifong lied to the court when he said that he and Meehan had no conversations beyond what the May 12 report contained. Meehan clearly would have needed to have explained precisely how he determined that DNA from four—as opposed, say, to three or five—males was found in the rape kit.
We hear a lot about the need for “healing.” Surely one step in that process would be for DPD leaders to publicly assert that Himan’s professional behavior since January 2007 represents the values the department would prefer its officers have.
The New York Times produced its finest article on the case in its coverage of the Nifong guilty verdict. The reason wasn’t hard to determine: the Times didn’t send Duff Wilson to the trial, and instead relied upon Aaron Beard’s wire-services story.
Beard’s nicely done opening scene-setter:
From the day he took over the Duke lacrosse rape case, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong charged forward with a strident determination that the guilty would end up in jail. Ultimately, the since-disgraced former prosecutor only succeeded at putting himself behind bars.
Beard accurately recognized Osmond Smith’s motivations, noting that the judge “opted for a largely symbolic punishment—the public humiliation of sending a prosecutor to jail—that he said would help protect the integrity of the justice system.”
Beard also got some excellent quotes:
- Jim Cooney: “None of us take any joy in what happened today or what is going to happen to Mr. Nifong in a week. But it was the inevitable outcome of a lot of actions.”
- Joe Cheshire: “Do I feel sorry for him? I feel sorry for his family. I think what he did was willful and intentional and damaged seriously this state and the lives of these boys and their families. I don’t feel sorry for Mike Nifong. Sorry if that sounds cruel, but I don’t.”
- Kevin Finnerty: “It’s not a happy day for us, but we’re thrilled the system works, that justice has happened, and we’re moving on.”
The article was the latest in a long line of fine pieces by Beard.
Yesterday, my colleague, Stuart Taylor, did an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon about Until Proven Innocent. The audio of the interview is on-line. NPR also published an excerpt from the chapter analyzing the Duke faculty’s initial response to the case, entitled “Academic McCarthyism.”
In this week’s Newsweek, Evan Thomas reviews the book, and obtains comments from Nifong attorney David Freedman and Duke spokesperson John Burness.
- Freedman, responding to our portrayal of Nifong: “There are a number of people who testified at the state bar proceeding that [Nifong] was a very caring career prosecutor.”
- Burness, responding to our portrayal of the faculty’s rush to judgment and Richard Brodhead’s timidity: “This book provides one interpretation.”
Victoria Peterson was noticeable by her absence at the Nifong trial. But a DIW reader encountered her last week in the Durham Kinko’s. The City Council candidate had some interesting ideas to offer:
- The disbarment of Nifong was terrible. If anyone should be prosecuted, it’s current DA Jim Hardin for the Michael Peterson case. V. Peterson continues to believe that M. Peterson (no relation) is innocent.
- The “victim,” according to Peterson, is very credible. Why? Crystal Mangum served in the military. Anyhow, a trial needed to occur, so people could hear the other side. (Apparently, Mike Nifong’s 50-70 interviews weren’t enough.) What evidence would be presented at trial? According to Peterson, the rape kit—the work of SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy—was all that was needed. (Peterson didn’t say how Mangum would explain away her final story of the attack occurring as she was suspended in mid-air.)
- Peterson also denied all suggestions that Mangum was a prostitute. Why? “They didn’t have sex with her that night. Even the boys admit they didn’t have sex with her.” (How, then, a rape occurred Peterson didn’t reveal.)
- Who was the real “victim” of this affair? Mike Nifong, of course. Peterson compared him to James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, the civil rights activists who were killed in 1964, in
. (Peterson, however, had the trio going north, apparently to Philadelphia, Mississippi , to be killed.) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Who was the real villain of the affair? Roy Cooper—who Peterson contended was bought off by money from “
New York, Boston, and .” The fact that he got this money when he “isn’t running for office” shows that it was a payoff. (Cooper, in fact, is a candidate for re-election as attorney general in 2008.) New Jersey
No word yet on whether Nifong will return the favor and serve as Peterson’s citizens’ committee co-chair in her City Council bid.
The folks at the Liestoppers discussion board noted that Nancy Grace was MIA on the Nifong criminal contempt trial, as the guilt-presuming former prosecutor gave way to a "guest host." Grace was, of course, all over the story, making false claims and guilt-presuming insinuations, in spring 2006.
But, as Jon Stewart observed in a great skit a few months ago, Grace has a habit of absenting herself on days when the story didn't go her way.
A reminder of the continued difference between the editorial leadership at the N&O and the Herald-Sun: the reaction to news that Durham's insurance company is pressuring the city to shut down the Whichard Committee inquiry, and keep all aspects of the DPD's misconduct in the dark.
The N&O's response was right on target:
Durham police played a role in the misguided prosecution, whether by going along with Nifong's efforts, by not protesting strongly enough that the evidence did not justify charges, or by both . . .
City administrators have put that investigation in neutral gear for the next several days because the insurance company that would face a big payout if the students sue and the city loses is having the jitters. The company says that Durham can't take any actions that might hurt the city's cause if it later has to defend itself. If the Whichard commission bores down to the truth, and if the department is shown to be at fault, that perhaps could undermine the city's position in court.
That might cause some tears to be shed for the insurers -- but actually, we thought that taking the financial risk is what the insurance business is all about. Besides, no one was crying as Durham paid its $220,000 annual premium for just this possibility. The company, by the way, is a subsidiary of American International Group, Inc., better known as AIG. It recently reported second quarter 2007 net income of $4.28 billion. If the Duke students sue and win, AIG's exposure would be $5 million, minus Durham's $500,000 deductible -- not an insignificant sum, but one the company should be able to handle. Durham has since changed its insurance carrier . . .
Regardless of what the students or AIG do, Durham's leaders should instruct the Whichard commission to proceed. Accountability needs to be determined for the way police headquarters handled the case. For instance, it's still unclear whether Nifong or police brass were in charge of detectives assigned to the investigation. Critical questions remain about how photo lineups were conducted. Are lineup policies the right ones, and if so, can Durham citizens be sure they are followed -- even when the pressure is turned up? Frankly, it also would be good to know how much oversight was provided by City Manager Baker, and later, how hard he pushed for the truth when writing his unsatisfactory report in May.
The lacrosse case was a shock to Durham's justice system, but it raised questions about justice across North Carolina. The entire state therefore has a stake in the commission's work. If an insurer can shut down Durham's inquiry, what good will it do to appoint any government fact-finding commission when a law enforcement agency's conduct is at issue? Reaching the truth as to how this case went so badly awry has to trump an insurance company's bottom line.
How did Bob Ashley and the Herald-Sun editorial page respond? Outrage at an outside entity dictating policy decisions to Durham officials? A call for the Police Department to stand tall and rectify its past mistakes? A commitment to finally getting to the truth?
There's no choice now but to shut [the commission] down.
Bob ("Eyes Wide Shut") Ashley strikes again.
In today's Chicago Sun-Times, sports columnist Rick Telander had a blunt take on last week's events in Durham:
Michael Nifong, the disgraced, disbarred and grasping former Durham, N.C., district attorney, finally will serve time in jail -- one day -- for his role in the bogus Duke lacrosse rape case.
While supposedly pursuing justice, truth and American ideals, Nifong stirred the local flames of sexism and racism to near-riot levels by withholding evidence and making unfounded claims of sexual brutality against three Duke lacrosse players.
Maybe a lot of people in Durham and at Duke and, yes, across the nation, were far too eager to believe in Nifong's rhetoric, but the D.A. himself is the scum circle at the top of the dirty pond.
Consider Nifong's waffling, language -- statements to the court Friday: ''I now understand that some things that I thought were in the [DNA] report were, in fact, not in the report. So the statements were not factually true to the extent that I said all the information had been provided. ... It was never my intention to mislead this or any other court. I certainly apologize to the court at this time for anything I might have said that was not correct.''
How about saying, ''I'm a lying sack of [expletive]. Goodbye.''
To give some sense of the seriousness of Nifong's conviction--regardless of the symbolic jail sentence--Newsday, Long Island's leading newspaper, ran the disgraced ex-DA as its cover photo in Saturday's edition.
The paper also had quotes from members of the Seligmann and Finnerty families.
- Kevin Finnerty: "It does give us closure. I think the three boys have their reputations back."
- Deb Hussey, Kathy Seligmann's sister: the Seligmann family "is looking forward. They are not looking back."
It's worth noting the irony that, on Friday, as Mike Nifong began his new life as a convicted criminal, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty also began their new lives. Both moved into their dorms at Brown and Loyola, respectively.