The N&O, WRAL, and ABC-11 have reported that false accuser Crystal Mangum was arrested early this morning. She has been charged with a series of crimes, including attempted first-degree murder, five counts of arson, and three counts of child endangerment. (The Herald-Sun, on the other hand, suggests she was not charged with attempted murder.) In an interview with ABC News, Mike Nifong "initially said he doubted press reports about Mangum's arrest, saying he found news reports 'to be of questionable value.'"
This case will work its way through the system, and it is premature to suggest guilt or innocence at this stage. Perhaps Mangum’s new boyfriend (whom she allegedly assaulted and attempted to kill) and one of her children (who apparently called 911) were lying about what occurred; perhaps the police report was flawed. And as the police investigation is continuing, perhaps new information will come to light about the incident.
That said, a few items about the arrest that have some relevance to the lacrosse case:
1) At this point, only a handful of people—chiefly the cranks at the “justice4nifong” website and the hacks who take seriously the site’s rantings—cling to the fiction that Mike Nifong was basically an ethical guy, a prosecutor who pursued the lacrosse case in good faith and had probable cause to do so. For this handful of true-believers and their followers, whitewashing Mangum’s character is critical—the image of her is generally of an “honors student” and “working mom” who had no incentive to lie. Such an approach, of course, requires ignoring Mangum’s 2002 arrest, her habit of leveling major, unsubstantiated accusations against people even before the case, and the fact that she showed up to her meeting with the special prosecutors under the influence of various prescription drugs. Despite that background, it’s going to be hard for even the truest of true believers to continue to hail Mangum’s good character if anything like the incident as reported is true.
2) Given that Mangum was charged with three counts of child endangerment, this incident should prompt some questions for North Carolina’s Department of Child Protective Services. Before the lacrosse case broke, it’s easy to understand how someone like Mangum (who at that point had two children) could have slipped through the cracks. But the case brought to light some disturbing patterns of conduct—Mangum’s 2002 arrest; her seemingly very serious mental health problems; her showing up for her special prosecutor’s interview under the influence of various drugs; and perhaps most troublingly her spring 2006 behavior before the lacrosse party, as attested by her closest associates (Yolanda Haynes, Jarriel Johnson, “Fats” Thomas),which included her using her “drivers” to look after her children and her frequently being away from home for the entire evening servicing her clients.
Did CPS look into the condition of Mangum’s children before she was formally charged with child endangerment? If so, what was the result of their investigation?
3) As of this writing (12.24pm), the New York Times (which saw fit to run dozens of articles and columns on the lacrosse case) hasn’t mentioned the arrest. The arrest puts the Times in a bind: even after the Attorney General declared her a false accuser, the Times refused to identify Mangum, apparently on the grounds that publicly identifying someone who made a false accusation of rape would deter real victims from coming forward. No Times reporter has ever used Mangum’s name in the newspaper. (One subsequent article from the AP that appeared in a Times brief did do so.) So will the Times cover the arrest, or continue to shield Mangum’s identity from its readers?
[At 5.15pm, the Times provided its answer: it picked up the AP wire story [AP has used Mangum's name since the innocence declaration] rather than have one its own reporters cover the story.]
4) Wendy Murphy might finally get her wish. In a wild column, the extremist commentator suggested that the unreleased section of the discovery file might show how the “seasoned prosecutor” Nifong had a case all along. Of course, the only unreleased section of the file was the roughly 1000 pages of Mangum’s mental health records, which Nifong possessed throughout the case and which Judge Smith gave to the defense, under seal, late in the case. (Murphy’s suggestion that this material would show Nifong’s good faith or that perhaps he had a case is, of course, preposterous—this material almost certainly would show that Mangum was an even more unreliable accuser than the public came to realize.)
If Mangum’s current case manages to make it to trial, an obvious line of defense would be mental impairment—which means that Mangum’s mental health history could come into evidence.