- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The North Carolina prosecutor who targeted three Duke lacrosse players on sexual assault and kidnapping charges was named yesterday on new ethics violations, accused of withholding DNA evidence from defense attorneys and misleading the court.

The new and more serious charges are in addition to an earlier complaint by the North Carolina State Bar accusing Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong of “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” in public comments about the case, which he “knew or reasonably should have known would have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing” the investigation.

Yesterday the State Bar said Mr. Nifong also made “false statements of material fact or law” to the court regarding his case against Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y.; Reade W. Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J.; and David F. Evans, 23, of Annapolis, and failed to make a “timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to him that tends to negate the guilt of the accused.”

“The allegations in the amended complaint speak for themselves,” said L. Thomas Lunsford II, the State Bar’s executive director, although he declined to elaborate. He said only the new charges “relate to circumstances” that surfaced after the state bar’s grievance committee filed the original complaint.”

Questions about Mr. Nifong’s handling of DNA evidence in the case surfaced last month when it was learned that his office had arranged for tests through a private lab, DNA Security Inc.

During a Dec. 15 pretrial hearing, DNA Security Director Brian Meehan said he shared tests results with Mr. Nifong, but a summary report given to the defense did not contain the information that semen found in the accuser’s underpants and in her body did not match any of the Duke players. He said the decision not to release the material was “an intentional limitation” at which he and Mr. Nifong arrived.

It was six months after the test results had been complete before Mr. Nifong informed defense attorneys about the results. During that time, he said in court motions, he was not aware of any information that could exonerate the three Duke players.

The Duke players, all white, originally were charged with restraining a 28-year-old black student of North Carolina Central University in a bathroom during an off-campus party, raping her and committing another first-degree sex offense against her. The woman had been hired as a stripper at the party.

Mr. Nifong dismissed the rape charges after a Dec. 21 interview of the woman during which she said she was not certain Mr. Seligmann had taken part in the assault and was not sure whether she had been penetrated during the attack, a necessary element of the crime of rape under North Carolina law.

Mr. Nifong has since handed over the case to State Attorney General Roy A. Cooper.

The State Bar, whose disciplinary commission can dismiss a complaint, issue a letter of warning, impose an admonition or reprimand, censure, suspend or disbar a lawyer, has set May 11 as a trial date for Mr. Nifong.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales last week to assign Justice Department attorneys and the FBI to investigate Mr. Nifong’s handling of the case.

Mr. King said a review he conducted of documents and summaries of Mr. Nifong’s investigation, along with discussions with other members of Congress, led to his call for the Justice Department probe. He called on the department to target Mr. Nifong and members of his staff, including investigator Lindell Wilson; the Durham Police Department, including Officers Mark Gottlieb and Benjamin Himan; and Mr. Meehan.

He said the investigation should determine whether “these and other individuals conspired to violate and violated the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of Collin and his two former teammates.”

Justice Department officials have said it would be premature to initiate an investigation while criminal charges are pending.

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