Thursday, February 25, 2010


A few updates.

Crystal Mangum’s bail, for charges of attempted murder, arson, and child endangerment, was reduced to $250,000. As one of the most astute observers of the case commented to me privately, a notable aspect of this affair is that, by filing severe charges against her, the Durham Police Department is no longer willing to afford Mangum the special treatment she so consistently received in the lacrosse case.

Mangum’s patron and “co-author,” Vincent Clark, appears to have noticed this as well: he sniffed to WRAL that “we hope that the courts will adjudicate this case with fairness and without bias.” (In the mind of Clark, it looks as if Nifong's decision to violate rules on behalf of Mangum constitutes the system acting fairly.) Clark also wildly suggested that Mangum had suffered from unidentified “past injustices.”

In Newsweek on-line, Susannah Meadows, who covered the case extensively, correctly observes, “I am sorry to say that I wasn't at all surprised by the most recent events.” Mangum, of course, has a long history of mental illness. And, as Meadows observes, “There were so many different versions of events that her statements took on an air of absurdity. She came off as more pathetic than conniving” (quite unlike, for instance, Nifong).

Meadows also contends that “though the case ended, the sadness that the scandal incidentally exposed remains unresolved. Remember that racial slur? When the two black strippers left the lacrosse party in a huff, a white freshman on the lacrosse team yelled out to them, ‘Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt!; Case or no case, the epithet still hangs in the air.”

Indeed it does. So, too, does the Group of 88’s statement. But unlike the student who uttered the racial epithet, the Group of 88 has, if anything, only tightened its vise over Duke’s humanities and (some) social sciences departments in the wake of the affair.

Two instances of false or dismissed rape allegations. The New York Post brings the story of a woman sent to prison for lying about a rape—a lie that led to an innocent man being sentenced to 20 years in jail. It’s inconceivable to me that Mangum could have been convicted of such an offense—she could have claimed mental illness, or she could have suggested that, as the DPD and the county’s “minister of justice” believed her, the story she told was credible. But the sentence is a reminder of just how unusual it is for false accusers—in a crime where the word of a false accuser can be enough to merit a decades-long sentence—to be prosecuted for their lies.

On another front, the Sacred Heart lacrosse case, which prompted several publications to write, as fact, that the “victim” was a “girl”? It turns out that, legally, there was no “victim” at all. All charges have been dropped.

Finally, I’ve little doubt that only the truest of true believers, scattered hacks who want to rehabilitate Mike Nifong, and those with high tolerance for what Dave Evans once termed “fantastic lies” monitor the “justice4nifong” site. I count myself in the latter category.

That said, the site remains the closest thing we have to the unvarnished thinking of Nifong. The committee members that nominally supervise the site consist of Nifong’s closest followers, and have admitted that they’re in contact with Nifong himself.

With that in mind, it’s been interesting to see a sudden, even abrupt, change in the “Nifong party line” over the last couple of weeks. The previous party line amounted to: Mike Nifong’s an ethical guy, a rape probably occurred, the lacrosse players are awful racists, and the State Bar mistreated him. These beliefs still animate the site. But nonetheless, sometime between a post on February 7, 2010 and February 16, 2010, the party line shifted.

The site escalated its personal attacks on the State Bar prosecutors. It magnified its claim that Nifong didn’t benefit from the case politically. More intriguingly, it suddenly started homing in on Rae Evans, to an extent far greater than previously. And, again, to a much greater extent than before, it suddenly started highlighting an alleged plot between CBS News(!) and the special prosecutors/AG’s office.

I’m not aware of anything that occurred in the case between February 7, 2010 and February 16, 2010 to cause Nifong and his acolytes to suddenly focus on demonizing Rae Evans and CBS News, or to suddenly challenge, in minute detail, the DHC’s conclusion that political concerns motivated Nifong.

The new party line, alas, is no more convincing than the old party line was, and would persuade only those in Nifong’s closest circle and the hacks who accept Nifong’s rationalizations as credible.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mangum Arrested (Updated)

The N&O, WRAL, and ABC-11 have reported that false accuser Crystal Mangum was arrested early this morning. She has been charged with a series of crimes, including attempted first-degree murder, five counts of arson, and three counts of child endangerment. (The Herald-Sun, on the other hand, suggests she was not charged with attempted murder.) In an interview with ABC News, Mike Nifong "initially said he doubted press reports about Mangum's arrest, saying he found news reports 'to be of questionable value.'"

This case will work its way through the system, and it is premature to suggest guilt or innocence at this stage. Perhaps Mangum’s new boyfriend (whom she allegedly assaulted and attempted to kill) and one of her children (who apparently called 911) were lying about what occurred; perhaps the police report was flawed. And as the police investigation is continuing, perhaps new information will come to light about the incident.

That said, a few items about the arrest that have some relevance to the lacrosse case:

1) At this point, only a handful of people—chiefly the cranks at the “justice4nifong” website and the hacks who take seriously the site’s rantings—cling to the fiction that Mike Nifong was basically an ethical guy, a prosecutor who pursued the lacrosse case in good faith and had probable cause to do so. For this handful of true-believers and their followers, whitewashing Mangum’s character is critical—the image of her is generally of an “honors student” and “working mom” who had no incentive to lie. Such an approach, of course, requires ignoring Mangum’s 2002 arrest, her habit of leveling major, unsubstantiated accusations against people even before the case, and the fact that she showed up to her meeting with the special prosecutors under the influence of various prescription drugs. Despite that background, it’s going to be hard for even the truest of true believers to continue to hail Mangum’s good character if anything like the incident as reported is true.

2) Given that Mangum was charged with three counts of child endangerment, this incident should prompt some questions for North Carolina’s Department of Child Protective Services. Before the lacrosse case broke, it’s easy to understand how someone like Mangum (who at that point had two children) could have slipped through the cracks. But the case brought to light some disturbing patterns of conduct—Mangum’s 2002 arrest; her seemingly very serious mental health problems; her showing up for her special prosecutor’s interview under the influence of various drugs; and perhaps most troublingly her spring 2006 behavior before the lacrosse party, as attested by her closest associates (Yolanda Haynes, Jarriel Johnson, “Fats” Thomas),which included her using her “drivers” to look after her children and her frequently being away from home for the entire evening servicing her clients.

Did CPS look into the condition of Mangum’s children before she was formally charged with child endangerment? If so, what was the result of their investigation?

3) As of this writing (12.24pm), the New York Times (which saw fit to run dozens of articles and columns on the lacrosse case) hasn’t mentioned the arrest. The arrest puts the Times in a bind: even after the Attorney General declared her a false accuser, the Times refused to identify Mangum, apparently on the grounds that publicly identifying someone who made a false accusation of rape would deter real victims from coming forward. No Times reporter has ever used Mangum’s name in the newspaper. (One subsequent article from the AP that appeared in a Times brief did do so.) So will the Times cover the arrest, or continue to shield Mangum’s identity from its readers?

[At 5.15pm, the Times provided its answer: it picked up the AP wire story [AP has used Mangum's name since the innocence declaration] rather than have one its own reporters cover the story.]

4) Wendy Murphy might finally get her wish. In a wild column, the extremist commentator suggested that the unreleased section of the discovery file might show how the “seasoned prosecutor” Nifong had a case all along. Of course, the only unreleased section of the file was the roughly 1000 pages of Mangum’s mental health records, which Nifong possessed throughout the case and which Judge Smith gave to the defense, under seal, late in the case. (Murphy’s suggestion that this material would show Nifong’s good faith or that perhaps he had a case is, of course, preposterous—this material almost certainly would show that Mangum was an even more unreliable accuser than the public came to realize.)

If Mangum’s current case manages to make it to trial, an obvious line of defense would be mental impairment—which means that Mangum’s mental health history could come into evidence.