Tuesday, December 26, 2006

District Attorney Michael Nifong is losing more than supporters these days. He’s losing a case and, if he’s not careful, potentially his career. Late last week, Mr. Nifong announced that he was dropping rape charges against the three Duke University lacrosse players whom he had previously labeled “a bunch of hooligans.” What remains of Mr. Nifong’s case are charges of sexual assault and kidnapping, yet even those are based on little more than the victim’s testimony, which has proven to be woefully unreliable.

We certainly support prosecutors who vigorously investigate allegations of rape, but from the beginning the Duke case seemed odious. For starters, Mr. Nifong relied on the accuser’s identification of the three players even though it was clear that the detectives in the case had violated their department’s own procedures when they included only team members in the lineup. One of the identified players, Reade Seligmann, responded with evidence that he wasn’t even at the March 13 party at the time of the alleged rape.

Then, a few days before Mr. Nifong dropped the rape charges, came the news that the prosecution might have withheld evidence favorable to the defense when it didn’t report that DNA from several unidentified men was found on the accuser — none of it from any of the 46 lacrosse players. Mr. Nifong says it was a mere oversight. However, as the Charlotte News and Observer documented, Mr. Nifong on multiple occasions over the last several months told the presiding judge in the case that he had nothing more to report. But Brian Meehan, the lead scientist conducting the DNA tests last spring, testified that he and Mr. Nifong had agreed not to release the information. So it appears that Mr. Nifong didn’t simply forget the DNA evidence existed.

As far as anyone knows, the only evidence remaining to Mr. Nifong that a crime was committed by these three men is the accuser’s testimony. Even Mr. Nifong has admitted that at a pretrial hearing scheduled for February if the accuser cannot identify the three players he will drop the case entirely.

Before that happens, Mr. Nifong might come under investigation himself. There have been several ethics complaints filed with the state’s bar association and now Rep. Walter Jones is asking the Justice Department to step in. As opposed to Mr. Nifong’s case, there seems to be enough evidence for that investigation to move forward.

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