Final thoughts on the last few weeks:
Given all that we’ve seen of Durham’s attitudes toward criminal justice—reflected best in the nomination and then election of Mike Nifong, followed by the nomination and election of his deputy, Tracey Cline—the verdict in the case should come as little surprise. True, false accuser Crystal Mangum didn’t deny that she had set the fire in her house’s bathroom. And, also true, the jury saw a contemporaneous video of her confessing to setting the fire. But this is the same city in which a near-majority of voters appeared unconvinced by a videotape showing Reade Seligmann someplace else at the time Mike Nifong claimed he committed a horrific crime. In Durham, it seems, normal laws of space and time don’t apply—or at least a lot of the residents wish it could be so, when it would serve their ideological interests.
(1) Even given this environment, I was surprised by the post-trial comments of the Mangum case judge, Abe Jones. After seeing Mangum convicted on a misdemeanor count of child abuse, Jones lifted a previous court order and allowed Mangum to regain custody of her three children. The false accuser, he suggested, was a good mother, and the fire-setting incident was an exception in her treatment of her children.
Whatever investigation North Carolina children’s services conducted of Mangum remains confidential. But considerable documentation—spread across four years—casts considerable doubt about Mangum’s fitness as a mother. The lacrosse case file included contemporaneous documents (such as statements from Mangum and her “drivers”) that detailed a woman who spent late nights on “dates” in hotel rooms and most of the time left her children with her parents and, on one occasion, her “driver.” The AG’s report indicated that Mangum showed up to one 2007 interview behaving erratically and testing positive for (among other drugs) methadone, a drug frequently proscribed for patients with heroin addictions. And in 2010, Mangum’s own attorney admitted that her client set clothes in the bathroom on fire (with her kids down the hall) and then didn’t tell police officers what she had done, even as her kids remained in the house.
While reasonable people can disagree over whether the record outlined above would justify a loss of custody, surely few would suggest that the clothes-burning incident was an exception in Mangum’s parenting skills. But, then again, in North Carolina, judges are elected, and Judge Jones has to face the same electorate that voted into office first Mike Nifong and then Tracey Cline.
(2) It was interesting to see who in Durham rose to Mangum’s defense—or who defended her defenders—and who took a pass on the case. Foremost, of course, in the latter category was the Group of 88. Though each and every member of the Group remains on record as publicly affirming that something “happened” to Mangum the night of the lacrosse party, and though each and every member of the Group remains publicly committed to “turn up the volume no matter what the police say or the court decides,” it appears as if no Group member gave a public statement sympathizing with Mangum or contributed to her legal defense fund. Unlike the lacrosse case, in this matter the Group saw no advantage in exploiting Mangum’s position.
Also quiet was the Durham professional Left. The leadership of the People’s Alliance, the “progressive” PAC whose voters did so much to ensure first Nifong’s and then Cline’s victory, shied away from defending Mangum. Even as they did so, however, the group’s spokesperson, Milo Pyne, announced his continued “sympathy” for Nifong, making Durham perhaps the only city in the country where left-wing activists express sympathy for a figure who committed massive prosecutorial misconduct in trying to send innocent people to jail.
Today’s news suggests that indifference to prosecutorial misconduct extends beyond the Group of 88 and the People’s Alliance, to the very core of Durham’s “minister of justice.” DA Tracey Cline—Nifong’s would-be second chair if the lacrosse case went to trial—has dismissed ADA Mitchell Garrell, after previously cutting his pay. Garrell, it’s worth remembering, had opposed Cline in the four-way 2008 race for the DA’s nomination, when he ran on a campaign calling for the “minister of justice” to behave ethically. According to the N&O, his dismissal occurred after he behaved ethically—he turned over, as he should have, all case-related material to the defense in the case of Derrick Allen. Unfortunately for Garrell, these files included material suggesting that “Minister of Justice” Cline had misled the court.
[In 2008, Cline was nominated courtesy of the “Nifong coalition” (which gave Nifong his victory first in the 2006 primary and then the general election)—Durham’s “progressive” whites, plus most African-Americans.]
(3) Silence from the Group and the PA left defense of Mangum to a motley crew of professional race-baiters—figures like Durham’s most prominent homophobe, Victoria Peterson; ex-school board member Jackie Wagstaff, whose courtroom behavior yielded her a 10-day sentence for contempt; and Steven Matherly, a PA “activist” who told the N&O that he considered his own previous brushes with the law a “badge of honor.”
Matherly repeatedly made the . . . peculiar . . . assertion that the attorney general (the state’s chief law enforcement officer) lacks the power to declare innocent people in his state who are falsely accused. He supplemented this legal “analysis” with a wild claim that those who did Ms. Magnum wrong (including, as he referenced in one post, the behavior of the lacrosse players) created a Durham environment, 2006-2010, that resembled the anti-black South of the 1920s and 1930s, in which lynchings occurred. Those looking to Matherly, however, for the 1920s/1930s Southern equivalents of Mike Nifong (a prosecutor who violated rules to keep alive a criminal claim from an African-American) or the Group of 88 (members of the local Establishment who tied their professional prestige to a criminal claim from an African-American) would still be waiting. I doubt that Matherly will provide any such examples in the future.
Given Matherly’s ignorance of both legal procedure and history, defending him is no easy task. But into the breach stepped Duke professor Robert Zimmerman, a prominent apologist for the Group of 88. Prof. Zimmerman, who in 2007 spent months hinting that he possessed secret evidence that would show the Group of 88’s statement wasn’t about the lacrosse case (ultimately, he produced no such evidence), made a surprise re-appearance in the DIW comment thread. His entertaining submissions featured his usual combination of a (as one commenter noticed) “passive-aggressive” attitude with Amelia Bedelia-style textual analysis.
(4) As the nation’s highest-profile false rape accuser faced trial on unrelated charges, two other blows challenged the ultra-feminist claim that women never lie about rape. In New York City, weather reporter Heidi Jones was charged with filing a false claim of rape after she gave police an inconsistency-riddled tale of a mysterious Hispanic man first raping her and threatening her. And in Sweden, even Wendy Murphy (“I never, ever met a false rape claim") expressed doubt about sexual assault charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
(5) Finally, in a classic example of how the academy’s lack of accountability has broader effects, Mangum’s legal proceedings coincided with the nomination of Group of 88’er Cathy Davidson to a position on the NEH’s advisory board. That would be the same Cathy Davidson, it’s worth reiterating, who published a January 2007 op-ed that was either lying or delusional in its description of the March 2006 environment at Duke.