The lacrosse case divided into 11 periods; with each new stage, the miscarriage of justice intensified.
1.) The Party: March 13-14, 2006
I can add little to 60 Minutes’ efforts. The broadcast demonstrated:
- Unless laws of time, space, and motion do not apply in
, the three people charged are innocent. Durham
- Unless common sense in evaluating evidence doesn’t exist in
, no rape at all occurred. Durham
- Reasons for doubting accuser Crystal Mangum included her ever-changing story and contradictions by the other dancer. The players’ statements, meanwhile, have remained constant. That all three players passed polygraph examinations administered by highly respected law enforcement figures gives added weight to their statements.
2.) The “Investigation”: March 16-23, 2006
After a confused 24-30 hours, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, for reasons that remain unclear, assumed control of the investigation. In the months preceding the lacrosse party, Gottlieb had arrested 10 times as many Duke students as the area’s three other supervisors combined. (The offenses all involved noise and alcohol-related violations.) Credible allegations of misconduct have come to light regarding his handling of these arrests.
Gottlieb’s investigation was almost laughably shoddy. He didn’t request a search warrant for the players’ house until 48 hours after the alleged attack. At his initial interview with Mangum, he failed to take contemporaneous notes. Nearly a week passed before he tracked down the second dancer, Kim Roberts; when he did, she deemed Mangum’s claims a “crock.” And it was weeks (if ever) before Gottlieb obtained statements from the accuser’s recent sexual partners or filled in gaps about her pre-party behavior.
Mangum, meanwhile, offered myriad, mutually contradictory versions of events. Sometimes she was raped by three people; sometimes, by five. Sometimes the second dancer was an accomplice; sometimes, a fellow victim. Mangum’s recollection that one attacker told her he was soon getting married suggested intent to deceive: this otherwise bizarre claim would have enhanced her credibility had she actually (as she believed) danced at a bachelor party.
According to Inv. B.W. Himan’s notes, Mangum described at least two of her attackers in ways didn’t remotely resemble any of the lacrosse players. No wonder, then, that she identified none of the suspects that police presented to her in photo line-ups on March 16 and March 21. On March 16, police presented four groups of six lacrosse players each. In each group was one suspect named Adam, Matt, or Brett (the police selected only 2 of the 3 Matts on the team as suspects) and five fillers (players not named Adam, Matt, or Brett). On March 21, police showed the accuser two more groups, with one suspect apiece (the other two residents of the house, Dave Evans and Dan Flannery) and five lacrosse players as fillers. In total, Mangum viewed 36 of the 46 white lacrosse players and identified no one as an attacker.
Medical evidence likewise failed to sustain the accuser’s claims. The SANE nurse’s medical report, which listed “diffuse edema of the vaginal walls” as the only significant item, provided little evidence for the accuser’s story of a brutal, sustained attack. Indeed, this swelling could have been a result of Mangum’s known activity in the hours and days before the party, which included several instances of consensual sex and a job that involved entertaining with a vibrator in a hotel room.
In his “straight-from-memory” report, produced four months later, Gottlieb would claim that Himan’s contemporaneous notes were wholly incorrect, and the accuser really had provided dead-on descriptions for the three players ultimately indicted—Dave Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty. The report raises an unanswerable question: if Mangum had so precisely described Finnerty, why did police not show her Finnerty’s photo, on either the 16th or the 21st?
Virtually the only “evidence” that Gottlieb’s inquiry generated came as a result of the cooperation by the three residents of the house—Evans, Flannery, and Matt Zash. The trio each gave statements to the police without asking for counsel. They offered to take polygraphs—an offer the police, for reasons that remain unclear, spurned. And they willingly provided swabs of their DNA.
Despite this cooperation, Duke administrators actively assisted the state. Without informing President Richard Brodhead, administrators demanded from the captains a candid account of the evening’s events, allegedly citing a non-existent “student-faculty” privilege to encourage the captains to disclose any criminal activity. Multiple sources confirm that Coach Mike Pressler, apparently acting on orders from above, instructed the other players not to tell their parents about the police inquiry. Meanwhile, Dean Sue Wasiolek arranged for a local lawyer, Wes Covington, to act as a “facilitator” in arranging for a group meeting with police.
The night before the meeting, one player broke down and told his father, who happened to be in
3.) The Nifong Usurpation: March 24-April 6, 2006
The District Attorney’s assuming personal control of an ongoing—and scarcely begun—police investigation fundamentally transformed the case. Appointed to the office in 2005 despite a pattern of emotionally unstable behavior during his half-decade sojourn in
In a primary electorate almost evenly split along racial lines, Nifong faced long odds. A strong white candidate, Freda Black, enjoyed higher name recognition than the incumbent as a result of her prosecuting a high-profile murder case in 2003. The two also had a personal history: Nifong had fired Black almost immediately after becoming district attorney. Meanwhile, a black attorney, Keith Bishop, ran a desultory campaign but threatened to siphon enough African-American votes away from Nifong to ensure a Freda Black victory. By late February, the local elite had delivered its verdict: Nifong’s fundraising had dried up; personal loans to his campaign kept his candidacy afloat.
Under personal, financial, and political pressure—and perhaps even, at first, believing that a crime occurred—Nifong seized the opportunity to exploit the case. He quickly secured a court order demanding that the players submit DNA samples and new photos. That motion, we now know, was fraudulent:
- Nifong claimed that the players called each other by first-name aliases and uniform numbers at the party; no evidence existed for either claim, as even the transparently pro-prosecution New York Times conceded.
- Nifong withheld from the court that the accuser had failed to identify any suspects in an official photo lineup.
- Nifong, it turned out, falsely promised the court that negative DNA tests would “immediately rule out any innocent persons.”
Confident that DNA would “show conclusive evidence as to who the suspect(s) are in the alleged violent attack upon this victim,” the D.A. launched a publicity barrage that seemed unrelated to any legitimate law enforcement purpose but did much to boost his name recognition in the run-up to the primary. Though Section 3.8(f) of the North Carolina Code of Professional Responsibility requires prosecutors to “refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused,” Nifong gave dozens of interviews. He termed the players “hooligans” whose “daddies” would buy them expensive lawyers. He made a host of statements not backed by items in police files. He mused, “One would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong.” And, in a blatant bid for the black vote, he deliberately exaggerated the racial element of the alleged attack.
As he basked in the media spotlight, Nifong appears to have learned that, contrary to his assurances, the DNA results would be negative. But he refused to discard the case for lack of evidence, and instead instructed police to conduct another lineup. Only this time, he would ensure that the accuser identified someone. In violation of
Duke Law professor James Coleman, former chief counsel to the House Ethics Committee, later wrote that these Nifong-mandated procedural irregularities “strongly suggest[ed] that the purpose of the identification process was to give the alleged victim an opportunity to pick three members of the lacrosse team who could be charged. Any three students would do; there could be no wrong choice.”
In the lineup, Mangum identified the three suspects, with varying degrees of certainty. Her performance gave no indication that she was a reliable eyewitness. After having not recognized him at all on March 21, she now claimed that Evans attacked her, and that he had a mustache—even though he didn’t have one. She claimed to be 100% certain that Seligmann attacked her—even though three weeks earlier, she said she was only 70% sure that Seligmann even attended the party. As Joseph Neff has pointed out, the lineup was riddled with other such inconsistencies. Indeed, the only player that the accuser twice identified as attending the party with 100% certainty wasn’t even in
With knowledge that the DNA tests were negative and surely understanding that his procedurally dubious identification would not survive close scrutiny, Nifong fanned the flames of public indignation. The D.A.’s office stood aside as Judge Ron Stephens released the (out-of-context) contents of a vile e-mail by lacrosse player Ryan McFadyen. Though the e-mail actually played off a scene in American Psycho, as follow-up emails from other players recognized, to the public, the e-mail confirmed the players’ guilt.
In this critical period, Nifong had three indispensable allies:
- The media—first the N&O, and, after March 27, the national networks and especially the Times—uncritically accepted his version of events, framing the story as a morality tale of white, rich, athletic excess, exploiting a poor, black, demure mother of two.
- Among what
’s Kurt Andersen has termed the Duke faculty’s “loopy left,” the players were guilty until proven innocent. In late March, Houston Baker, a professor of English and Afro-American Studies, issued a public letter denouncing the “abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us” and demanding the “immediate dismissals” of “the team itself and its players.” A week later, on April 6, 88 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty signed a public statement saying “thank you” to campus demonstrators who had, among other things, carried a banner reading “CASTRATE” outside the lacrosse players’ rented house, distributed a “wanted” poster of the lacrosse players, and publicly branded the players “rapists.” By contrast, no Duke professor publicly criticized Nifong’s conduct until months later. New York
- Brodhead failed to resist his faculty’s assault on due process. Moreover, whether intended or not, his actions fortified a public image of guilt. On March 25, in an unprecedented move, the president canceled (at the last minute) the lacrosse team’s game against
, citing underage drinking at the party. Then, after the April 5 release of the McFadyen email, Brodhead demanded Pressler’s resignation, cancelled the lacrosse season, and issued a statement anchored by a lament on the evils of rape—at a time when the players were firmly denying any sexual contact, much less rape. These moves enjoyed enthusiastic support from Board of Trustees chairman Robert Steel. Georgetown
In normal circumstances, the media and the academy can be counted on to value due process and dispassionate analysis of evidence. In this case, however, both groups not only failed to stand up for procedural regularity, but gleefully joined the rush to judgment. As Ed Bradley noted, the “biggest surprise for us was the presumption of guilt.”
4.) The Effects of Demagoguery: April 6-May 3, 2006
As Duke’s anti-lacrosse movement peaked, Nifong started losing control of public sentiment. On April 6, Mangum gave a written statement contradicting both her earlier version of events and the second dancer’s statement. (Police never re-interviewed the second dancer to resolve the discrepancies.) That same day, the accuser’s “driver” told police that before the party, she was behaving erratically and had fulfilled a variety of one-on-one “appointments.” Then, on April 10, defense lawyers publicly revealed that the DNA tests revealed no matches to any players.
These three developments ended any hope for Nifong to mount a credible case. At the same time, the D.A. discovered that mobilizing the electorate’s basest passions carried risks as well as rewards. In a tumultuous forum at NCCU held on April 11, local activist Victoria Peterson claimed that
In mid-April, Nifong’s obligations as
But Seligmann struck back. He quickly produced unimpeachable electronic evidence—culminating in an ATM video of him a mile away at the time of the alleged attack—proving his innocence. (His attorney, Kirk Osborn, had offered this evidence to Nifong, but Nifong had declined to meet, despite a state bar mandate not to “intentionally avoid pursuit of evidence merely because he or she believes it will damage the prosecutor’s case or aid the accused.”) Perhaps as important, testimonials flooded in regarding Seligmann’s character, demolishing the negative caricature of the players constructed by Nifong, the Duke faculty, and the media.
The voters, at least initially, seemed not to care. On the evening of May 1, each of
5.) The Effects of Procedural Fraud: May 4-Oct. 26
In the months after Nifong’s primary victory, three themes dominated the case.
First, the district attorney behaved in an increasingly erratic fashion. Consider:
- On the day of Evans' indictment, Nifong engaged in a profanity-laced public tirade against one of the lacrosse attorneys, Kerry Sutton--who, ironically, had supported him in the primary.
- In a rambling June e-mail to Newsweek’s Susannah Meadows, Nifong asserted, “None of the ‘facts’ that I know at this time, indeed none of the evidence that I have seen from any source, has changed the opinion that I expressed initially.” As he initially expressed his opinion on March 27, this assertion suggested an extraordinary closed-mindedness. The evidence that came in after March 27 included: the DNA tests; the accuser’s own statement(!); the Seligmann alibi; the procedurally flawed lineup; the statement from the accuser’s “driver” about her pre-party medical activity; and the SANE nurse’s report.
- Acting upon a nearly three-year-old unserved warrant, the D.A.’s office ordered the arrest of the cab driver who picked up Seligmann on the night of the party, Moezeldin Elmostafa. At the trial, which resulted in a quick acquittal, Himan’s notes indicated that “Mr. Nifong wanted to know when we picked [Elmostafa] up.” The document enhanced the credibility of Elmostafa’s claim that when Inv. R.D. Clayton arrested him, “The detective asked if I had anything new to say about the lacrosse case. When I said no, they took me to the magistrate.”
- After learning that two members of the Animal Control Board, on which he sits as D.A., had signed petitions to place Lewis Cheek on the ballot as an unaffiliated challenger to him, Nifong threatened to resign from the board.
- In the September court hearing, the N&O’s Benjamin Niolet described the odd environment: “When defense lawyers spoke, Nifong occasionally sighed, rolled his eyes, laughed quietly or rubbed his temples.”
Second, Nifong has abandoned all pretense of seeking “justice” for Mangum. In the September hearing, the D.A., citing nothing beyond his own (non-existent) psychological expertise, said he “supposed” that the attack lasted only five minutes, ten at the outside. He added that defense attorneys could test his tale against the accuser’s 30-minute version by cross-examining the accuser as vigorously as they wanted at trial.
The D.A. had little choice, of course, but to move forward—if only to minimize the likely financial and ethics sanctions that will emerge once this case ends. He also needed to maintain his base in the African-American community to have any chance of holding off the Cheek effort in November.
Third, even as overwhelming evidence has emerged that through procedural fraud, the D.A. constructed a case out of whole cloth, Nifong’s enablers kept the faith.
- In the media, Bob Ashley’s Herald-Sun adopted the ingenuous dual strategy of simply ignoring news that damages the prosecution’s case while suggesting that a trial is necessary to heal the community. Meanwhile, Slate columnist Jack Shafer suggests using the Times’ coverage as a case study in examining why it is “so hard for newspapers that have climbed out onto a limb in reporting a story to turn back once they hear the wood cracking.”
- The Duke arts and sciences faculty appeared frozen in time, circa April 8: the leaders of Duke’s Campus Culture Initiative include the team’s most vitriolic critics, such as Peter Wood and Karla Holloway. The continued prominence of figures such as Wood and Holloway shatters the argument that the Group of 88 and their supporters were just caught up in the heat of the moment when they denounced the lacrosse players in the print. Holloway’s remarks, for instance, came long after evidence of the players’ likely innocence and Nifong’s certain misconduct had emerged—but she treated both of these developments as essentially irrelevant. “Justice,” Holloway claimed, “inevitably has an attendant social construction. And this parallelism means that despite what may be our desire, the seriousness of the matter cannot be finally or fully adjudicated in the courts.” Therefore, she continued, since the presumption of innocence “is neither the critical social indicator of the event, nor the final measure of its cultural facts,” judgments about the case “cannot be left to the courtroom.”
- The Brodhead/Steel administration, operating from the premise that a trial gives the players a chance to be “proved innocent,” attempted to rewrite the history of American higher education, rationalizing its own passivity on the grounds that professors and academic institutions should not comment on procedural abuses in the criminal justice system.
In some respects, Nifong’s enablers needed a trial as much as the district attorney does, if for different reasons. For the Times, a trial would have prevented Duff Wilson from becoming the 2006 version of Judith Miller—the reporter who uncritically trusted incredible government documents that reinforced the journalist’s preconceptions. For the Duke faculty, a trial would have improved chances of the school’s adopting what Group of 88 member Mark Anthony Neal termed a “progressive” curriculum. For the Brodhead/Steel administration, self-preservation was the motive, to avoid a possible alumni revolt.
6.) The October Hearing and Nifong’s Election Triumph
The October 27 hearing was the final event of the case before the November election. Its defining moment came when Nifong admitted—under repeated questioning from Brad Bannon—that he had never spoken to Mangum about the facts of the case. How did he test her reliability, then? By chatting about unrelated topics, such as her children. Bannon, quite correctly, said this assertion “stretched credulity.”
Those who followed the case closely already knew this was Nifong’s party line—the N&O’s Ben Niolet had revealed it in a devastating profile of the district attorney. (The item was one of dozens of facts N&O broke about the case. The total number of accurate Herald-Sun scoops? One, coming in mid-November and regarding the accuser's one-time supervisor at the strip club, Yolanda Haynes. Editor Bob Ashley complained, mysteriously, that the paper lacked good sources on the case.) But few in the national media, it appeared, read the N&O, and Nifong’s admission was major news.
The admission placed Nifong on the defensive, part of a broader pattern of highly erratic pre-election behavior by
This record appeared not to disturb Nifong’s faculty enablers among the Group of 88. In a novel interpretation of the statement’s meaning, Group member Alex Rosenberg told the New York Sun that he had abandoned the presumption of innocence to protest the role of alcohol on campus and “affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds.” (The statement, in fact, mentioned neither item.) Two days later, Grant Farred penned an op-ed that ranks as the single worst publication by a Duke faculty member regarding the case. The Literature professor stunningly contended that those Duke students who registered to vote in
The anti-Nifong coalition combined Beth Brewer with veteran political operative Jackie Brown; Chronicle columnists Kristin Butler and Stephen Miller with N&O columnist Ruth Sheehan; longtime Durham residents with Duke Students for an Ethical Durham, the umbrella organization that coordinated the voter registration drive. All advocated a vote for the Lewis Cheek line, although Cheek said he wouldn’t serve if elected. Perceptive—and prophetic—observers urged
Because it is almost certain that Nifong will be suspended or disbarred, he will not be able to continue in office. And as the governor may be choosing the next district attorney in
, the best option is to start looking to the future now and save the community the disruption and pathetic spectacle of Nifong’s protracted death throws. Durham County
On Election Night, Nifong prevailed, but short of a majority. (He tallied 49 percent of the vote.) In the end, the DA owed his victory to two factors. First, he received near-monolithic support (around 95 percent) from
7.) The December Hearing and Its Aftermath
Nifong’s victory turned attention to the next hearing in the case, scheduled for December 15. Defense motions dealing with the apparent withholding of exculpatory DNA evidence, the April 4 lineup, and a change of venue were released in consecutive days before the hearing. The lineup motion demonstrated in extraordinary detail the extent of Mangum’s flawed performance—the only evidence that Nifong had to link anyone to any “crime.” Beyond her many errors (she was 100 percent sure that she saw chatting with Kim Roberts outside the house someone who actually was in
The December 14 motion could be used as a case study in the dangers of flawed procedures. Nifong had ordered the police to orchestrate a lineup confined only to suspects (the 46 white lacrosse players). Is it any wonder that the results he received were worthless?
The lineup motion almost certainly would have ended the case at the next scheduled hearing (Feb. 7). But it got overshadowed by the DNA controversy. Under extemporaneous questioning first from Bannon and then from Seligmann attorney Jim Cooney, Dr. Brain Meehan eventually admitted that he and the DA had entered into an agreement to intentionally withhold results showing that the DNA of several unidentified males in the accuser’s rape kit. Before the hearing, Nifong said he didn’t know about Meehan’s findings; directly afterwards, he said he did—but felt it important not to turn over this information, so as to protect the privacy of the unindicted lacrosse players. How such a course would, in any way, benefit the unindicted players Nifong explained neither then nor since.
The Meehan revelations marked the beginning of the end for Nifong. On December 20, he received a letter from the State Bar informing him of possible ethics charges on the DNA issue. With his career going up in smoke, the district attorney panicked. He sent his chief investigator, Linwood Wilson, to meet with the accuser. At this meeting,
In short, the December 21 story was not only a frame—it was a stunningly blatant frame. But Nifong treated it as legitimate, dropping the rape charges the next day, while leaving in place the sexual assault and kidnapping charges.
Nifong and his advisors (the “Troika” of Wilson, wife Cy Gurney, and citizens’ committee co-chair Victoria Peterson) apparently thought the new version represented a clever way of minimizing the significance of the withheld DNA evidence. Instead, the DA presented to the Bar and the national media the image of a rogue prosecutor who would stop at nothing to bring the case to trial.
Within a week:
- Duke president Richard Brodhead—who heretofore had avoided all public criticism of Nifong—publicly urged the DA’s recusal from the case.
- The State Bar filed ethics charges against Nifong, citing the “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation” in his pre-primary public statements about the case.
- The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys publicly called for Nifong’s recusal.
Though Nifong would remain on the case for another two weeks, he implicitly recognized his isolation in one of the case’s many “Only in
8.) Nifong’s Ethics Problems
On January 12, apparently under advice from counsel, Nifong formally recused himself from the lacrosse case—the first step, in all likelihood, toward losing his license to practice law. Cameramen captured a shot of the springtime media darling walking, alone and in the dark, to his car as he drove away from his office. The attorney general’s special prosecutions division took over the case.
Shortly after Nifong removed himself from the case, the Bar amended its ethics complaint against him. Focused on his decision to enter into an intentional agreement with Dr. Meehan to withhold exculpatory evidence, the Bar accused Nifong of not only massive ethics violations, but also of repeatedly lying to the court, breaking three state laws, and violating the Constitution. In many ways, the disgraced DA was his own enemy: he offered no fewer than 11 separate (and often mutually contradictory) explanations for the decision to withhold the DNA.
The Bar, it was clear, had heard enough from Nifong. In a devastating response to Nifong’s plea to dismiss some of the charges against him, the Bar accused the DA of asking the Disciplinary Hearings Commission “to undertake statutory construction, interpretation of case law, and semantic hair-splitting.” It ridiculed his citation of court orders from Judges Stephens and Smith, noting “that the content of each Order was based on Nifong’s misrepresentations to the Court as alleged in the Amended Complaint. Therefore, Nifong is effectively arguing that he can make false statements to a court which result in the entry of an order, and then use the order that is based on his misrepresentations to claim he committed no discovery violation.” And it correctly argued that the “Defendant’s contention that he was under no obligation to provide the information because no trial date was set necessarily implies that he was also entitled to withhold and never disclose potentially exculpatory information in any case that settled prior to trial.”
9.) Nifong and the Political World
Smart political figures distanced themselves from Nifong; those less politically astute failed to do so. In the former category was Governor Mike Easley, who told an audience at the
I had to listen to how the poor dear lacrosse players at Duke are being persecuted just because they held someone down and fucked her against her will—not rape, of course, because the charges have been thrown out. Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair.
When criticized for the remarks, Marcotte deleted them from her website. As other groups pored through Marcotte’s writings, it turned out she was an equal-opportunity author of vile material, and soon thereafter she resigned from the campaign.
10.) The Nifong Faithful
But while Nifong was gone from the scene and seemingly on his way to losing his law license, the furor he unleashed continued unabated, especially at Duke. As the new year dawned, Brodhead invited Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty to return for spring-term classes. (Both declined to do so.) Then, in perhaps the most important campus development in the previous nine months, 19 professors (17 from Economics) published a letter implicitly rebuking the Group of 88, endorsing Brodhead’s call for an inquiry into Nifong’s misconduct, and stating that they would welcome all student-athletes, including lacrosse players, into their classes.
The Group of 88 swiftly responded. Karla Holloway resigned her position as the Campus Culture Initiative’s race subgroup chair by publicizing fifth-hand, unsubstantiated gossip about Duke students. (To my knowledge, she was neither disciplined nor criticized for her actions.) Cathy Davidson published an N&O op-ed describing the Group’s ad as a response to racist defenses of Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and Dave Evans “on the campus quad” sometime between March 29 and April 6. Neither then nor at any time since has Davidson revealed who these defenders were or what they were saying. She appears to have simply made up the rationalization. Holloway joined 86 colleagues in issuing a statement purporting to “clarify” the Group of 88’s ad, which defiantly rejected all “public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it.” Then, Group members Diane Nelson and Pedro Lasch darkly hinted at a conspiracy against them—motivated for unspecified reasons and staffed by unspecified people.
The duo had joined four other anti-lacrosse professors at a “shut up and teach” event at which they barred all recording devices and then proclaimed that their critics should “shut up and teach.” (“Free speech for me, not for three,” apparently.) Finally, on February 23, the Group saw one of its most prominent members, Political Science professor Paula McClain, elected to a two-year term as chairwoman of the Academic Council. McClain’s triumph coincided with the long-anticipated release of the Campus Culture Initiative report, which carried political correctness to a new level—demanding, among other things, the end of admissions breaks for athletes but their expansion for minorities. The report’s highlight, however, was a de facto Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, a proposal that all Duke students be forced to take a class on “diversity” in the United States—offerings disproportionately taught by the Group of 88.
The CCI report was scarcely a week old when it had been torn apart by several Chronicle editorials and op-eds. The Group, however, continued to have its defenders, even if their number had shrunk, through the efforts of people like Michael Corey (Blue Devil Weekly), Josh Perlin (Cornell Daily Sun), and Steven Marcus (Newsday).
Group of 88 members weren’t the only Nifong enablers to remain faithful to the end. Politically correct columnists acted as if nothing had changed after April 6, 2006. From the shelter of her lily-white, upper-class Connecticut suburb, Times columnist Selena Roberts penned a column mocking the lacrosse players for seeking jobs on Wall Street and arguing, “To many, the alleged crime and culture are intertwined . . . but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive.” One problem: Roberts herself, in a March 2006 column, had made precisely that connection.
As the Herald-Sun continued its case-long record of serving as a de facto Nifong press office, the state NAACP maintained its record of using the case to abandon 70 years of positions on criminal justice issues. Rev. Curtis Gatewood, president of the Durham NAACP from 1994 until 2002, described the State Bar’s ethics charges as part of a “conspiracy to disrupt justice in this
11.) Exoneration and Disgrace
On April 11, 2007, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced the results of his office’s investigation. Not only would all charges be dropped, but the three players were declared “innocent” victims of a “rogue prosecutor.”
Nifong’s troubles were just beginning. In a five-day proceeding in late June, the Disciplinary Hearings Commission of the State Bar found him guilty on 27 of 32 counts of ethical improprieties. He was disbarred and forced to resign as DA. In late August, Judge Smith found him guilty of criminal contempt for lying to the court about his conversations with Meehan; Nifong was sentenced to a day in jail. And, in early 2008, he declared bankruptcy to avoid a civil suit filed by the falsely accused students against him, the city of
Duke, too, was sued for its conduct. In late June, it announced a settlement—rumored to be $18 million—with the falsely accused students. In late September, Brodhead apologized for the “ill-judged and divisive” statements by many Duke professors, and also for his own unwillingness to demand that all Duke students receive due process in dealing with local authorities.
Most of Nifong’s ardent defenders, however, refused to back down. Both the Herald-Sun and the New York Times defended their flawed reporting in the case. Only one of the Group of 88 (Arlie Petters) apologized for signing the statement. Allies of the Group from elsewhere in the academy praised the Group’s performance, even after the AG’s declaration. And, on campus, the personnel policies that had led to the hiring of so many Group members continued without question. Duke, proclaimed Brodhead, would “move on” without a review of why so many faculty had rushed to judgment on the case.