Monday, December 20, 2010

The Durham Way

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.


skwilli said...

Wonderland, indeed. There is no way to make this stuff up! Thanks for the comprehensive "light" on the matter. Now let's watch the roaches scatter again.

Robert Zimmerman said...

Prof. Johnson has me pegged, as usual. If you're interested, though, you can read my actual opinion of Matherly as well as an actual textual analysis.

KC Johnson said...

It's always nice to welcome Prof. Zimmerman back to DIW!

I did--and I just doublechecked this--link to his comments in my original post, but just in case, I'm going to link to it again here.

And, speaking for myself only, I still hope that at some point, some time in the future, he'll produce his long-hinted-at secret evidence suggesting that the Group of 88 statement didn't actually refer to the lacrosse case; and that perhaps, he'll even reconcile his argument with Prof. Lubiano's inviting signatures for the ad with the following opening sentence ("African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident").

But, somehow, I expect that Prof. Zimmerman will produce his evidence regarding the Group of 88's intentions at about the same time Steve Matherly produces the 1920s/30s counterparts for Mike Nifong and the Group of 88.

Anonymous said...

Is Matherly a Communist?

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen - why fight over the trees when the forest is in plain sight?

I don't live in Durham, but I live close to it. As a northern transplant, I've sometimes wondered if Durham is typical of the many other counties in North Carolina or whether it is some sort of unpleasant anomaly. I wish someone who is well versed in the history of North Carolina would join this blog and perhaps enlighten us as to how Durham came to be Durham. Maybe that would shed some light on the characters and events in its recent dismal history.

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Zimmerman:

I, along with many, many other DIW followers (along with, perhaps, your Duke "colleagues" and "students" (and may God help them)) still await your point-by-point response to the specific issues Prof. Johnson raises in his 4:19 post. You've been called out--respond or begone.

Anonymous said...

If I were you, Prof. Zimmerman, I would retreat quietly to your office at the law school. You are outmatched, and apparently incapable or either defending yourself or keeping your assertions straight.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for shining a brilliant spotlight on these shenanigans, Professor Johnson!

Judge Abe Jones has, through his rulings and non-rulings, showed himself to be an improvident man on occasion, but not uttely stupid or insane. A declaration that Crystal Mangum is a "good mother" -- knowing what he knows -- constitutes the ravings of a lunatic. But, I don't believe he is stupid or insane, so I would lean towards some type of appeasing political gesture as well. ("I split the baby, putting Wagstaff behind bars, but calling her Prostitute Madonna a 'good mother.'").

What a slap in the face to hard-working mothers across the country, who manage to keep a decent job, handle their personal problems, see that their children are well-fed and remain un-consumed by fire, and who ensure that their children are supervised by someone other than a pimp, a "driver" or someone Mangum herself has called "crazy" and "a psycho."

Jones was wrong in instructing the jury not to consider the fact that Mangum did not alert the police to a fire before she was in custody. Mangum could have done it any number of ways without blaming herself, including placing the blame on someone else like her boyfriend. She's rather good at that, in fact.

Likely based on that, Jones also erred in saying that he would not allow a conviction of Mangum for child abuse or neglect if there wasn't a conviction for arson. (His first error was in saying this in court before he had to do so.).

Jones also erred in allowing the egregious court behavior of the Mangum cult to go unchecked until it became a mistrial issue.

In the end, Durham has, again, done everything in its power to harm three children. And that is the saddest news of all. MOO! Gregory

RighteousThug said...

KC, loath as I am to give the justice4nifong crowd any 'press', Matherly's idiot colleague Sidney Harr deserves mention for this:

I am of the opinion that the police, most likely Officer Tyler, started the fire in the bathtub, not Crystal or her ex-boyfriend....

Why do I believe that police set the fire? The following reasons are but a few:

(1) Police made no attempt to put out the fire. All that was required was to turn on water in the bathtub. That is what you, me, or anyone possessing a modicum of commons sense and sanity would naturally do.

Words fail.

Anonymous said...

I comment about a couple of things.

I believe Mr. Matherly made a statement to the effect that the Lacrosse players' attorneys could not have proven their clients' innocence in court. That is characteristic of the Mangum support faction, a lack of awareness of who has the obligation to prove in a criminal case, something that has been pointed out to them on a number of occasions. A defendant in a criminal case has no obligation to prove anything. The prosecution has the obligation to prove guilt, beyond any reasonable doubt. Mike Nifong could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a fair trial. It shows the total lack of regard for due process on the part of the pro Mangum faction.

I believe in a recent blog that Sidney Harr has again claimed that Mrs. Rae Evans precipitated what he calls the "carpetbagger jihad" against Mr. Nifong via her statement to ^0 Minutes. Mrs. Evans made her statement in January of 2007, according to what I found on the web. By that time, most of the criticism of Mr. Nifong's actions, the call to drop the charges had taken place. The NC State Bar had just about completed its case against Mr. Nifong. Mr. Harr has a marked disregard for the truth.

The timing of Mrs. Evans statement has been pointed out to Mr. Harr on a number of occasions. Mr. Harr, in fact, has acknowledged that Mrs. Evans made her statement in January of 2007.

Anonymous said...

"I wish someone who is well versed in the history of North Carolina would join this blog and perhaps enlighten us as to how Durham came to be Durham."

Frank Matthews, who for a time in the 1970s controlled the East Coast heroin trade , was from
Durham and liked to employ Durhamites
even in New York because he trusted "home folk". When he was finally arrested his bail money came from Durham.
Millions in drug money was laundered through the city.

I imagine that had a corrupting influence;
and also that his organization (taken over by Frank Lucas, also from North Carolina,
and the subject of a movie starring Denzel Washington) continued (or continues) that influence for some time.

Anonymous said...

'In the end, Durham has, again, done everything in its power to harm three children.'

Thats how it started and how this chapter ends. So sad indeed.

Anonymous said...

Nothing ever changes in Durham - same old story.....CGM manages to escape any punishment for her crimes and is lauded (this time as a great mother) to boot. With the certainty of death and taxes one could cynically add CGM escaping the full force of the law.

Locomotive Breath said...

In the comments on one post Matherly made the rather fantastic claim that the DNA evidence that Brian Meehan and Mike Nifong conspired to withhold from the defense did NOT exclude the lacrosse team.

I pointed out to him that's exactly what got Nifong in trouble. He wasn't interested in publishing my comment and eventually deleted the whole comment thread.

Anonymous said...

I met Tracey Cline while waiting on line to vote. She introduced herself, and as I shook her hand, I said, "Hey! Did you hear that those Duke LaCrosse guys were actually innocent?!"

She clearly knew I was busting her chops, but she recovered and said, "Yes, I think our Attorney General said that." Anyhow, while I'm a huge supporter of this site, I would place Tracey Cline very far back on the list of evildoers.

Her boss was a crook -- something that many of us know or suspect about our own bosses -- so what did we REALLY expect her to do? Yes, she compromised herself -- she went along (mostly) silently with what the boss said -- not (I think) actively advancing his crooked agenda -- and hopefully she made a silent vow that she would do better when he was inevitably disbarred.

She asked me some intelligent questions about the difficult issues facing a prosecutor (no need for details here), and I think she's a good sort who cares about the outcome of her policy decisions.

More to the point, she seems to be the best we can get: Has anyone forgotten that, even as evidence became obvious that Nifong was a crook, NOBODY wanted his job? That his only real opponent, made it clear he would REFUSE that job if elected?

WHEN has this happened in any other election? Nobody wants to be Durham's official zookeeper. Frankly we're lucky that anybody even slightly employable, would take that job.

I am no Tracey Cline booster, but I would suggest that some perspective is in order: She may be the only fool that's foolish enough to want her job (indeed, the record proves this), but there is no evidence that she's the vicious, lying, despicable bully that was Mike Nifong. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

We are the idiots now to defend this woman thug.