- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The disgraced district attorney in the Duke lacrosse rape case apologized to the three athletes in a carefully worded statement yesterday as their lawyers weighed whether to sue him.

On Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper threw out the case against the three young men, pronounced them innocent and delivered a withering attack on Mike Nifong, portraying him as a “rogue” prosecutor guilty of “overreaching.” Mr. Cooper said Mr. Nifong rushed the case, failed to verify the accuser’s story and pressed on despite the warning signs.

In his first comment on that decision, Mr. Nifong said in a statement yesterday: “To the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused.”

He issued what appeared to be a plea to the students not to take any further action, saying, “It is my sincere desire that the actions of Attorney General Cooper will serve to remedy any remaining injury that has resulted from these cases.”

So far, attorneys for David F. Evans, Reade W. Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty have not said whether they plan a civil action against Mr. Nifong. They have not ruled it out, and Mr. Seligmann’s attorney, Jim Cooney, responded angrily to the apology.

“You can accept an apology from someone who knows all the facts and simply makes an error,” Mr. Cooney said. “If a person refuses to know all the facts and then makes a judgment, that’s far worse — particularly when that judgment destroys lives.”

Mr. Finnerty’s father, Kevin Finnerty, said Mr. Nifong’s “attempt at an apology” was “disingenuous and insincere” and “falls well short of whatever it might take to even remotely repair the damage he has inflicted on so many people.”

When asked whether he accepted the apology, the elder Mr. Finnerty said: “I do not. Too little, too late.”

Mr. Evans’ attorney, Joseph Cheshire, accused Mr. Nifong of engaging in “revisionist history” and dismissed the statement as “not an apology … not an acceptance of responsibility,” but as “a self-serving attempt to excuse bad behavior.”

Although prosecutors generally have immunity for what they do inside the courtroom, legal analysts said that protection probably doesn’t cover some of Mr. Nifong’s more questionable actions in his handling of the case — such as calling the lacrosse players “a bunch of hooligans” in one of several interviews deemed unethical by the state bar.

“Ordinarily, a prosecutor has absolute immunity for the actions he takes in preparation for a case, but there are some caveats to that, and one of them is he does not have absolute immunity for misleading statements he gives at press conferences,” said Shannon Gilreath, an adjunct professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law.

“I think their chances of success suing Mr. Nifong are reasonably good,” said John Banzhaf, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law.

Separately, the North Carolina bar charged Mr. Nifong months ago with several violations of professional conduct that could lead to his disbarment. Among other things, the bar said Mr. Nifong made misleading and inflammatory comments about the athletes before they were charged. In the early days of the case, for example, Mr. Nifong said several times that members of the lacrosse team were not cooperating with investigators. That was not true, court documents show.

Other actions Mr. Nifong took outside of the courtroom could open him up to a lawsuit, Mr. Banzhaf said. Mr. Nifong, among other things, directed the police lineup at which the accuser identified the three players; the lineup has been criticized as faulty. The bar has also accused Mr. Nifong of lying in court about having turned over all DNA test results to the defense.

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