Every so often, we see an event that raises eyebrows even by the upside-down standards of Durham legal culture. Take, for instance, the three legal motions filed late last week on behalf of false accuser and accused murderer Crystal Mangum. The motions weren’t filed by Mangum’s court-appointed attorney—who told the H-S that he knew nothing about them. Instead, they were ostensibly written on the accused murderer’s behalf by none other than “lay advocate” Sydney Harr, who has spent the past few years in a quixotic crusade to restore Mike Nifong’s law license. Even more strangely, Mangum’s court-appointed lawyer said that Mangum hadn’t authorized the motions’ filings—but each motion has a signature that appears to match Mangum’s.
In his motions, Harr, speaking of himself in the third person, admits that “he has not received formal legal training.” (But, perhaps, he once stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.) The three motions combine character assassination, bizarre interpretations of the law, and revisionist history of the lacrosse case to call for dismissal of the murder charges against Mangum; the recusal of Judge Smith from Mangum’s case; and a change of venue in the event the first two requests aren’t granted.
The motion to dismiss the murder charges is almost comically bad. Harr contends that Mangum shouldn’t face charges for murdering her late boyfriend, Reginald Daye, either because Daye’s doctors initially gave him a “prognosis for a full recovery” and thus are guilty of “medical malpractice” or because Daye’s family took him off life support after doctors said he had no chance of survival and thus engaged in a “hospital homicide.” (Harr, who identifies himself as a retired physician, also offers his medical opinion on Daye’s cause of death, even though he never treated Daye; indeed, he claims that Daye “might have even regained consciousness” had he remained on life support.) In perhaps the motions’ most bizarre line, Harr faults Duke Medical Center doctors for removing Daye from life support “without the consent or input from Defendant [Mangum].”
Why an accused murderer would have the right to make medical decisions for the person she allegedly murdered Harr does not reveal.
Applied nationally, the motion’s argument would free hundreds of convicted killers—anyone whose victim’s life wasn’t artificially sustained by life support. Harr doesn’t cite even one case to bolster his novel legal theory, but he does accuse the media of having “concealed” the fact that Daye had been on life support. Why the media would have engaged in this conspiracy of silence Harr does not explain.
Harr’s motions also devote considerable space to a claim of conspiracy on behalf of the Durham Police Department and the Durham DA’s office to invent and prosecute unsustainable charges against Mangum, because the “Defendant was the accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case.” Harr provides no explanation as to why the office of would-be lacrosse case second chair Tracey Cline or the Durham Police, which in 2006 spent months violating procedure after procedure in an attempt to prop up Mangum’s false charges, would have an incentive to invent criminal charges against Mangum. And, needless to say, he presents no evidence to sustain his . . . counterintuitive . . . theory.
His introduction of the lacrosse case does, however, provide Harr with an opportunity to relitigate the events of 2006. His motions, filled with gratuitous character assaults on the former Duke students, ooze with hatred for the falsely accused players (raising questions of whether the documents were prepared with some pro bono assistance from a certain disgraced ex-DA). Every so often, out of the blue, Harr throws in an attack on (of all people) Rae Evans.
Harr laments that Duke (who he himself has sued!) has faced “greed-driven lawsuits” because of what the motion alleges were $20 million settlements to the falsely accused players. (He provides no evidence for this figure, which he appears to have conjured from thin air.) And Harr, without citing any authority or case law, criticizes AG Roy Cooper for declaring the lacrosse players innocent, a move he attributes to the pernicious influence of Brad Bannon(!!). Cooper's actions, Harr suggests, were improper, since a declaration of innocence is “something that only a jury or a judge in lieu of a jury can do.” Of course, a jury delivers a verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty”; juries do not declare innocence. And what any of this revisionist history has to do with the motions’ ostensible topics Harr leaves for the reader to guess.
Perhaps temporarily forgetting the identity of his client, Harr veers from character assassination against the falsely accused lacrosse players to a claim that Nifong was wrongfully convicted of criminal contempt. Why? Because “as long as NIFONG believed what he was telling the court was true, even though it might not have been totally factually correct.”
This postmodern view of the truth might carry some way with the Group of 88 (did Harr seek to consult “law professor” Karla Holloway in his effort?) but has little bearing in the actual world of the law. As occurs throughout his motions, Harr cites no case law to sustain his novel legal theory. But he does employ it to suggest that Smith must recuse himself from Mangum’s trial.
The motions do reveal two new items: (1) that Nifong was “advised to drop prosecution of the Duke lacrosse defendants.” Harr doesn’t reveal who advised Nifong to take this course; and (2) that after her 2010 conviction for arson-related charges, Mangum was expelled from her graduate studies at North Carolina Central. Falsely accusing people of rape, apparently, doesn’t affect a student’s status at NCCU; conviction on misdemeanor arson charges does.
It’s hard to imagine that these motions will do Mangum any good. If, in fact, the false accuser didn’t authorize their filing, they could allow Harr to spend some time in jail for contempt. And WRAL reports that the State Bar is looking into Harr’s behavior.