If they "confess" even to something that will only get them probation or a few hours of community service, the stigma will follow them as long as they live and blight their personal lives and professional careers.
Far more important, it would allow a nationally publicized gross misuse of prosecutorial powers to go unpunished, emboldening other prosecutors across the country to think that they can get away with anything.
What happens to Nifong matters far beyond Nifong, just as what happens to these Duke University students matters far beyond these students.
Nifong has not only played the black voters for suckers, he has been helped by knee-jerk reactions from liberals in the media and in academia, who started loudly denouncing the accused students from the moment the accusations against them were made.
The whole schedule of the Duke lacrosse team was cancelled and its coach fired. Scores of Duke professors took out an ad, lining up against the students. The New York Times led the media attacks on the students. The local NAACP chapter joined in the lynch mob atmosphere -- a painful irony, in the light of history.
An atmosphere of mindless reactions will always be exploited by demagogues. Our gullible vulnerability to such manipulation is the larger tragedy in this sordid and painful episode. District Attorney Nifong was neither the first nor the last demagogue to take advantage of that gullibility.