Some highlights from yesterday’s affair:
The press conference showed what anyone who has gotten to know the three targets of Mike Nifong’s misconduct or the defense team long ago recognized: the lawyers are extraordinarily talented, and the each of the players is impressive, but in different ways with different personalities.
Speaking to people after the remarks, most in attendance seemed impressed that Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann all used their addresses not only to give people a sense of their experiences over the past year and to thank those who have helped them through everything, but to recommend changes in the North Carolina judicial system to ensure that what happened to them can never occur to another innocent person.
Differing portions of the attorneys’ remarks stood out:
Joe Cheshire’s public recognition of Brad Bannon’s case-breaking performance;
Jim Cooney’s decision to call out the abysmal coverage from the Herald-Sun before a national TV audience;
Wade Smith’s hilarious response to a reporters’ question on whether Nifong would apologize (“I checked my cellphone” but saw no response);
Cooney’s blasting of a reporters’ question about whether the players asked for what happened in attending a spring break party (the reporter, Cooney suggested, had “lost an absolute sense of proportionality);
Cooney’s praise of the heroes of the case—people like Jim Coleman or Moez Elmostafa—and his listing as cowards a “number of people in
Wade Smith’s lament that Kirk Osborn, the Seligmanns’ lead attorney from April through October, did not live to see the exoneration for which he had fought so hard;
As with the critical December 15 hearing, many members of the Duke men’s and women’s lacrosse teams were present. Each, in different ways, was vindicated by yesterday’s announcement.
For the men’s team: 46 college students were vilified by the media and many of the very people who taught them for behavior that is hardly out of the ordinary on most college campuses. An irony of this case: so much ink was spilled denouncing the men’s lacrosse players’ character—yet from March 25 until yesterday, they operated under the consistent glare of the media spotlight and demonstrated extraordinary character. They just as easily could have lashed out, or become surly, or grown apart. Instead, they worked from the inside to change the system by registering voters, and did nothing that would strengthen the voices of those in the media or the professoriate who had decided to exploit the case.
The women’s lacrosse team: in the 2006 Final Four, team members wore armbands sympathizing with the three targeted players. For this, they were roundly criticized by columnists from around the country, often in sexist language. To my knowledge, no one who attacked the women’s team—led by Harvey Araton of the New York Times—have apologized for having criticized the women’s players for doing just what they should have done: speaking truth to power.
Also in attendance, by the way, were Jackie Brown and Beth Brewer—the brains behind the Recall Nifong campaign and two of the true heroes of the case. Given all the work they put in to expose Nifong’s misconduct, a share of yesterday’s victory was theirs.
Joe Neff provided an audio summary of the case from the N&O website. He listed three main turning points:
Mid-April to May 1: Osborn went forward with “some remarkable digital evidence that corroborated Reade Seligmann’s alibi.” Seligmann’s alibi “really galvanized public opinion” to look anew at the case.
2) The day that Dave Evans was indicted. “First look at one of these lacrosse players, and it was a powerful public performance.” It helped change public opinion—because it was the first time people got to see lacrosse players personally.
3) Dec. 15: the revelation by Dr. Brian Meehan, under oath, that he and Mike Nifong had entered into an agreement to withhold the exculpatory DNA evidence.
“Fundamentally, this case was of leads not followed, of tips not pursued, of questions not asked.” Neff says that he sees no evidence that the police, or Nifong, or Linwood Wilson ever asked the accuser hard questions.
What happens next? The case is over, but civil cases are likely to ensue. “I think the N&O will likely be reporting the case for years to come.”
Neff also is previewing a multi-part N&O series (five days’ worth of stories). Neff and the N&O team of reporters have done great work on this case in the past several months, and I’m looking forward to the series.
Finally, a word about Roy Cooper. This case has featured an example of a prosecutor who corrupted the justice system and stoked race and class tensions in his hometown to further his political career.
Cooper could have taken the easy way out, delivering a milquetoast statement that dismissed the charges but did little else. Instead, he delivered a speech that will define his political career.
At an early stage of the case, Mike Nifong preposterously asserted that his favorite novels included To Kill a Mockingbird. Yesterday, Roy Cooper provided a reminder that the spirit of Atticus Finch remains alive.