Kathleen Parker

In response to this revelation, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has called for the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an inquiry into possible misconduct, while Duke University President Richard Brodhead has asked for Nifong to pass the case to a third party.

While official outrage is welcome, it seems belated. Where were the passionate protestations when these three young men were being convicted in the court of public opinion? The presumption of their guilt was nearly instantaneous among Duke administrators and many faculty, from whom others in the community took their cues.

As one student at Durham's historically black North Carolina Central University put it to Newsweek, he wanted the lacrosse players punished ``whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past.''

Nifong also cut corners early in the case during the process of identifying suspects. When two lineups failed to produce an attacker, Nifong requested a third lineup, but this time using only members of the lacrosse team instead of a random sampling. This move not only was at variance with normal police procedure, it may ultimately lead to charges that Nifong abused the defendants' civil rights.

In yet another example of iffy evidence, one of the defendants -- Seligmann -- has taxi, restaurant and ATM receipts indicating that he was elsewhere at the time of the alleged rape. Nifong still saw fit to charge him.

No one's arguing that the lacrosse team deserves a citizenship award for having a drinking party and hiring strippers. But there's a universe of difference between jocks acting boorishly and brutes gang-raping a helpless woman.

Nifong still plans to prosecute Finnerty, Evans and Seligmann on charges of kidnapping and first-degree sexual offense, which can result in sentences comparable to rape. Without DNA evidence, Nifong's case will rest largely on the stripper's testimony.

To win, she will need more credibility than her lawyer has demonstrated, and disremembering rape seems not a good start.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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