Monday, November 25, 2013

Mangum, Murder, and the Los Angeles Times

The 2nd-degree murder conviction of Crystal Mangum has, understandably, brought the lacrosse case back into the news; if Mangum hadn’t falsely accused three people of raping her, and if the local prosecutor hadn’t violated all sorts of rules to keep her story alive, and if dozens of Duke faculty hadn’t published an ad that among other things vouched for Mangum’s credibility, it’s unlikely many people outside the Triangle would care much about Mangum’s latest brush with the law, even if this time she managed to kill Reginald Daye.

For the most part, reports on Mangum’s conviction responsibly recapitulated lacrosse case events, given space limitations.

Perhaps the best positioning of the case came from Georgia Parke in the Duke Chronicle: “Mangum previously gained notoriety after accusing three 2006 Duke lacrosse players of raping and kidnapping her. The players were eventually found innocent and Mangum's lawyer and former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was disbarred for perjury and violating professional conduct.

Even the normally biased Herald-Sun chose a wholly neutral, appropriately short, and accurate summary: Mangum drew national headlines in 2006 when she falsely accused three members of the Duke University lacrosse team of raping her at a party near East Campus.

The BBC strayed a little closer to the politically correct approach: eight of the article’s fourteen paragraphs dealt not with Mangum’s killing of Reginald Daye but instead with the lacrosse case. And some of that description wasn’t accurate; the BBC claimed that Mike Nifong “resigned following an ethics trial investigating whether he had broken rules of professional conduct in the case.” Of course, the ethics proceeding did more than investigate—it found Nifong guilty on 27 of 32 counts, and disbarred him.

Nonetheless, the BBC also conceded that the initial assumptions about “race, class and gender elements . . . were turned upside down [except among the Group of 88] when all charges against the three students were dropped by North Carolina’s attorney general, who cited significant inconsistencies between the evidence and various accounts given by Mangum.”

Then, almost as a counterbalance to this overall record of fairness, there’s Soumya Karlamangla of the Los Angeles Times. Karlamangla, a Cal-Berkeley graduate, came to the Times after serving as a web producer intern and a health reporter intern for papers in San Francisco and Portland—and as an “editorial intern” for The Nation. Nation editorial interns, needless to say, tend not to be card-carrying members of the Federalist Society.

In what purported to be a straight news article, Karlamangla devoted 12 of her 15 paragraphs to the lacrosse case; Daye got one mention. And she framed the article in a manner that suggested a desire to relitigate the collapse of the race/class/gender narrative and even, to some extent, the facts of the case. Her overall portrayal of the case read as if it came from a Group of 88 press release: “The case captured the nation’s attention, exposing racial and socioeconomic divides not just at the elite university, but across the country.”

The race angle: Mangum “enrolled at the historically black North Carolina Central University, and the three men accused were white and attended a prestigious private university that was not integrated until the 1960s.”

The class angle: “While Duke typically attracts students more familiar to schools in the Northeast, its Southern home in Durham is made up of mostly blue-collar workers. As cited frequently by the media during the court proceedings, the yearly tuition at Duke at the time was about $43,000, while the 2000 census put the the [sic: did anyone edit this article?!] median household income in Durham at $41,160.”

Meanwhile, Karlamangla’s description of the actual events of the lacrosse case leaned heavily on the give-and-take of court filings or defendants’ statements, rather than on neutral inquiries such as the AG’s investigation or Nifong’s ethics proceedings. Indeed, while she could find space in her 15 paragraphs for Durham’s median household income 13 years before the murder conviction that sparked the publication of the article, Karlamangla couldn’t bring herself to mention that the State Bar conducted an ethics inquiry into Nifong’s conduct and found him guilty of 27 of 32 counts. The piece merely mentioned that Nifong was disbarred without explaining how or why.

Karlamangla then presented events of the case with action verbs (emphasis added below) all but designed to invite the reader to doubt: “The defense claimed” Nifong ordered a procedurally improper photo array. (Did he?, a reader might wonder.) “The Duke players maintained they were innocent.” (Were they?, a reader might ask.) While Karlamangla quoted from AG Cooper’s press conference, she pointedly did not include Cooper’s statement that the players were innocent—easily the most newsworthy item from his remarks. But the L.A. Times reporter found space to pass along that even as evidence of her lies accumulated, Mangum “insisted some sort of sexual assault had taken place.”

If Karlamangla wants to publish an op-ed in The Nation defending the framing of the case by the Group of 88 and itsallies, she’s obviously free to do so. But the L.A. Times should be embarrassed for allowing her item to run as a news article. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Updates from Durham

[Update: Mangum was found guilty of 2nd-degree murder, and sentenced to a minimum of 170 months (14.2 years) in prison.

The Chronicle reports that Mangum's attorney asserted that his client's disastrous decision to testify in her own defense (see below) came against his advice.

The paper has no comment from any member of the Group of 88, nor have I seen any comments elsewhere on the web from any Group members. Presumably few if any of the Group continue to find Mangum credible, but it's worth reiterating that all except Arlie Petters have not in any way distanced themselves from their 2006 statement.]

Mangum has taken the stand in her own defense, and WRAL has the video. Cross-examination starts at the 46.30 mark.

Mangum's basic argument: she's telling the truth; and various police officers, neighbors, friends were all lying; and videos and photos that don't corroborate her version of events are for inexplicable reasons all inaccurate.

Recall: this is the person to which, in different ways, Mike Nifong and the Group of 88 attached their public reputations. Recall: this is the person whose allegations the Group of 88 deemed credible, to the extent they were willing to publicly affirm that something "happened" to her, based solely on her version of events, as presented by police and Samiha Khanna.


The oft-delayed murder trial of Crystal Mangum is underway in Durham. (WRAL has been live-streaming the proceedings.) Testimony in the first two days has featured evidence of Mangum trying to mislead police about her name—Marcella Mangum was the preferred choice—and (as she did in the lacrosse case after police were called to Kim Roberts’ car) her going limp when handcuffed by police.

A ruling by the judge presiding over the case that prosecutors could introduce evidence of Mangum’s previous arrest—in which she allegedly tried to get a knife to stab her then-boyfriend, Milton Walker—makes a conviction likely. But, then again, this is Durham.

As expected, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal filed by Bob Ekstrand on behalf of his three clients. This decision was all but certain once the Court declined to hear the appeal from the falsely accused players.

Limited claims against ex-officers Gottlieb and Himan (from the falsely accused players) and against Duke (from the three former players represented by Ekstrand) are the only remaining matters of civil litigation arising from members of the 2006 team.

There is, however, one potential civil suit that could expose items related to the case. The Herald-Sun has reported that Ekstrand, who’s representing former DPD Sgt. John Shelton (who’s now working for the Durham Co. sheriff’s office), has threatened a suit against Durham for its mistreatment of Shelton.

Ekstrand alleges that the DPD retaliated against Shelton because Shelton—apparently alone among Durham police officers—from the start doubted the veracity of Mangum’s tall tales in the lacrosse case. In another department, Shelton’s prescience would be grounds for praise. But, then again, this is Durham.