And, the Duke Lacrosse Case Gets Thinner

Mary Katharine Ham

8/7/2006 11:20:28 PM - Mary Katharine Ham
The Raleigh News & Observer reports today that, after a review of the prosecution's files, it appears Durham D.A. Mike Nifong was overselling his case in the media.

I'm shocked--shocked!


In examining the files Nifong has produced in the case, The News & Observer found that the accuser gave at least five different versions of the alleged assault to different police and medical interviewers and made shaky identifications of suspects. To get warrants, police made statements that weren't supported by information in their files.

The district attorney commented publicly about the strength of the medical evidence before he had seen it. He promised DNA evidence that has not materialized. He suggested that police conduct lineups in a way that conflicted with department policy.

The story is a very long, well-organized accounting of the events in the case--the changing stories, the multiple line-ups, the overzealous DNA testing. For those of us who have ties to Durham, we've been hearing a lot of this around town, but it's important to make sure that as many people as possible of the, um, entire population of America, who saw the sensational coverage of this case in the spring see the follow-up.

I'd recommend reading the whole thing, so you can debunk lies about the case in casual dinner conversation-- if you have casual dinner conversation about sketchy national-newsmaking rape cases.

John in Carolina has a good summary of the story:

For anyone who still hasn’t connected the dots, Neff makes it real easy to go from (1) the accuser’s “difficulty” describing her “gang-rapists;” to (2) Nifong and the police’s need to fish for DNA from all 46 lacrosse players when they were saying only 3 committed the rapes; to (3) their need to keep trying again and again for some kind of visual ID; to (4) Nifong and the police’s finally concluding that they would have to violate their own ID procedures; to (5) Nifong and the police setting up an ID procedure in which, in the words of Duke Law Professor James Coleman: “Any three students would do; there could be no wrong choice.”

If anyone can go from 1 to 5 and then not be able to read “FRAME UP,” I’m betting that person is a member of Duke’s faculty Group of 88 or just like “the 88.”

Neff’s story will make it much harder for the “we’re only getting fragments from the defense attorneys” choir to sing its song. What’s most damning in Neff’s story comes from police records, Nifong’s statements and the many and varied accuser and “second dancer” accounts of the events of the night of Mar. 13/14.

It would have been really nice indeed if the press had bothered digging for this kind of information in the spring instead of jumping to condemn the affluent white boys for the grievous sin of being affluent white boys whom Nifong could use to gin up the black vote in his race for D.A. Cynical? Yes, I lived in Durham too long not to be.

Instead, the press, the local community, and the university ran with nothing more than Nifong's apparently false statements and a rape-case scenario that fit their world view. Too bad for the lacrosse coach, lacrosse players, lacrosse program, and families of the accused who have had to suffer as a result.

John would like to see a different headline on today's N&O story:

EVIDENCE CONTRADICTS NIFONG, INDICATES DUKE STUDENTS FRAMED

Robert KC Johnson notes how Duke President David Brodhead has, shall we say, an incomplete understanding of the American justice system:

(Brodhead) now has publicly claimed that three Duke students will have the opportunity “to be proved innocent” in a situation that “only the criminal justice system can resolve.” In the Alice-in-Wonderland world that is Durham justice, such sentiments, which turn American judicial philosophy on its head, are all too common—as in a peculiar editorial from the Durham Herald-Sun, which praised D.A. Mike Nifong for stating at a recent press conference, “I have not backed off from my initial assessment of the case.” This comment provided a “boost of confidence” to those, like the Herald-Sun editorial board, who support Nifong.

Durham is a strange, strange place in many very bad ways. Maybe this case will be a wake-up call for that community. A town full of activists wanted so badly to be socially conscious that it jumped on a cause that didn't exist, and smeared a group of young men who look more and more innocent every day.