Sunday, September 24, 2006

Herald-Sun: We Conceal, You Decide

John Stevenson, author of August’s borderline fraudulent article on DNA and the case, was back at work in yesterday’s Herald-Sun. Perhaps chastised by the strong criticism his last major effort received, Stevenson adopted a subtler approach in his latest piece—burying the lede, prioritizing Mike Nifong’s message, and concealing critical information.

Stevenson opened his article with three breathless paragraphs on the new discovery information that Nifong gave the defense, implying that the district attorney was handing over reams of material. What did he conceal?

  • The district attorney’s astonishing statement, in open court, that he hadn’t even read all of the material handed over to the defense, and didn’t plan, either now or at any point in the future, to read the portions of the discovery he deemed “irrelevant.”
  • Nifong’s disturbing admission that the Durham Police destroyed the recording of Sgt. J.C. Shelton’s initial radio report of encountering the accuser in a Kroger’s Supermarket parking lot, even though the defense had filed a motion in April to preserve the recording.

When was the last time the Durham Police Department or Nifong’s office destroyed evidence for which the defense had filed a motion to preserve? The Herald-Sun doesn’t say. Nor does the paper offer any insight on how the district attorney could deem irrelevant evidence that he hadn’t bothered to read.

Stevenson then moved on to several paragraphs relaying the D.A.’s bizarre preoccupation with the defense attorneys’ poll of 300 Durham County voters, reinforcing Nifong’s quest to use the issue to distract from the other questions raised by the hearing. What did he conceal?

  • Any mention from neutral defense attorneys, law professors, or former prosecutors at the routine nature of lawyers’ polling in high-profile or heavily publicized cases.
  • Any context regarding what might be the single strangest legal aspect of this case—Nifong’s attempt to introduce an affidavit from an anonymous person. This alleged Durham County resident allegedly was polled, and allegedly claimed that the pollsters’ “agenda was to try and persuade a jury or potential jurors. I thought that this has to be illegal.” Stevenson apparently finds nothing unusual that those words, allegedly uttered by this anonymous figure, eerily resembled previous utterances by the D.A.

When was the last time a North Carolina district attorney attempted to introduce an anonymous(!) affidavit as evidence? The Herald-Sun doesn’t say.

Stevenson proceeded to a section on Nifong’s ever-changing timeline, and the judge’s decision to deny a defense motion for a bill of particulars, subject to a provision allowing for the motion to be refiled later. What did the reporter conceal?

  • Any mention that the ever-changing timeline not only contradicts the accuser’s myriad, mutually contradictory statements—but that it contradicts documents as basic to the state’s case as the arrest warrants, which state that the “crime” occurred on March 14, not March 13 or March 14.

How often do district attorneys in North Carolina change the date of an alleged offense after arrests have been made? The Herald-Sun doesn’t say.

Stevenson conceals mention of the district attorney’s striking decision to contradict the statements of his prime witness. Despite the claims of Sgt. Mark Gottlieb’s straight-from-memory 33-page typewritten report, Nifong asserted that an April 11 meeting between the D.A., the accuser, Gottlieb, and two other police officers did not involve any statements of evidence by the accuser. Since the accuser appears to have given a different version of events each and every time she spoke to police, Nifong’s claim quite probably prevented him from having to defend another inconsistency.

The D.A.’s justification for this peculiar silence by the accuser, which Nifong said he provided on p. 2030 of the discovery? The accuser, reasoned he, was still very traumatized by the March 14 (or March 13-14, as things now stand) event.

So, according to Nifong, the accuser was too traumatized to speak of the incident on April 11, yet not so traumatized as to conduct an eyewitness ID session on April 4 upon which the police relied to make identifications; and give a statement on April 6 upon which the police relied to establish that a crime occurred? I can see where the Herald-Sun would struggle to fit this admission into the paper’s pro-Nifong agenda.

The Herald-Sun ace also conceals any discussion of Nifong’s bizarre in-court behavior— described in the following way by the N&O: “When defense lawyers spoke, Nifong occasionally sighed, rolled his eyes, laughed quietly or rubbed his temples.” Do district attorneys in North Carolina routinely behave in such fashion? The Herald-Sun doesn’t say.

Lest anyone think Stevenson is a rogue reporter committed to doing Nifong’s dirty work against the wishes of Herald-Sun editor Bob Ashley, take a look at the paper’s Saturday article on the case. Penned by reporter William West, the piece ended with a superficially “balanced” presentation of one statement from an NCCU student, Justin Carr, and one statement from a Duke student.

According to West, Carr “said the accuser should be given a fair hearing in court,” an upside-down view of the American judicial system that seems to be typical at NCCU. On the other hand, Duke student Omari Wallace—“who,” West reveals, “is black” (the race of the NCCU student isn’t stated)—offers neither a defense of the lacrosse players nor complaints about Nifong’s behavior. Instead, he laments that the lacrosse players’ actions have hurt Duke’s recruiting efforts, especially among minorities.

I have no doubt that some students at Duke feel as Wallace does. But all anecdotal as well as media evidence suggests that the most powerful student view revolves around outrage at Nifong’s misconduct. I wonder why West quoted from an NCCU student who reflected the campus mainstream but from a Duke student whose views don’t seem shared by a majority on campus. Surely the fact that Wallace’s statements complement the Ashley editorial line couldn’t have factored into the reporter’s decisionmaking process?

Special thanks: Liestoppers' in-court observer, for information on some of the unreported items.


Anonymous said...

Ashley works for Paxton Media in Paducah, Ky.

Anonymous said...

It seems highly suspect to me that the Accuser was meeting with the DA and the police investigators on April 11, and yet never discussed the case. Why doesn't the judge order Nifong to tell him (in camera, if he claims it's too sensitive) just exactly what they were discussing on that date, if not the case? Did they meet on April 11 to discuss the beautiful weather in Durham? Spring fashions? The rising price of gasoline??? There had to have been some topic of discussion, and Nifong should disclose what it was.

Anonymous said...

Your analysis is quite insightful. I agree with the 7:33 post--it is very hard to believe DA would have any other issue to discuss with the AV on Apr. 11 (except maybe the status of open charges against her and her friends???) The defense should ask that the judge review Nifong's explanation in camera. The only thing I don't find extraordinary is the waffling on the crime date--Mar. 14 (original date) or (now) Mar. 13 or 14. While I DO agreee it's obvious the DA is playing games with the timeline, the change in the date ON ITS OWN is not suspicious when the event clearly occurred on or close to midnight.

Anonymous said...

Not suspicious? Don't you think they knew the "event" occurred close to midnight months and months ago? They picked March 14th as the date, and now that one innocent defendant has an alibi, they are changing the time and the date just so they can continue to prosecute him. That's not suspicious to you?

Anonymous said...

I think you misinterpreted my comment--"suspicious" may have been the wrong word. I DO think the DA is playing games, now that he knows the alibi. And I DO know the DA knew from the beginning that the event occurred around midnight. I'm simply saying that, the fact that he is saying it could have occurred on the 13th, given the midnight timeline, is not IN AND OF ITSELF something that would make the general public (i.e. jury pool) question the facts. IF he tries to claim it happened before midnight, therefore eliminating Reade's alibi, he will have to discredit the time-stamped photos and the second stripper's original story--that's where the general public might get suspicious.