Justice was never goal of Nifong in Duke case

January 04, 2007|By Thomas Sowell

In the wake of recent revelations in the Duke University "rape" case, even some of Durham District Attorney Michael B. Nifong's supporters have started backing away from him.

It was not just that the head of a DNA laboratory testified under oath in December that he and Mr. Nifong both knew back in April that there was no DNA from any of the Duke University lacrosse players found on the body of the stripper who accused them of rape - or even that the DNA of other men was found in her underwear and in intimate areas of her body.

What was really damning was that he and Mr. Nifong had agreed to keep these facts secret, despite requirements that exculpatory evidence be turned over to the defense. Moreover, in May, Mr. Nifong filed a statement saying that the prosecution "is not aware of any additional material or information which may be exculpatory in nature."

But he knew what the DNA evidence was before he signed that statement.

The leading newspaper in town, which had supported Mr. Nifong in its editorials before these new revelations, now called his actions "flawed" and "inexplicable."

Mr. Nifong's actions are inexplicable only if you assume that his purpose was to get at the truth about what happened at the party where the stripper claimed to have been raped.

From day one, I have never believed that this case was about rape, about Duke lacrosse players or about strippers.

District Attorney Nifong's actions are perfectly consistent and logical from start to finish, once you see that this case is about Mr. Nifong's career.

Let us go back to square one. Where was Mr. Nifong before this case came along?

He had worked in the district attorney's office for years and was appointed interim district attorney only after the previous district attorney left to become a judge. Now Mr. Nifong faced a tough election against a woman he had once fired and who would undoubtedly fire him if she became district attorney.

Where would that leave Mr. Nifong? Out on the street at an age when most people are not likely to be starting a new career. His pension as well as his job could be in jeopardy. Moreover, his opponent was favored to win the election.

Then, along came the Duke "rape" case, like a deliverance from heaven.

Politically, the case had everything: white jocks from affluent families at a rich and prestigious university vs. a black woman who was a student at a far poorer and less-distinguished historically black institution nearby. Above all, there were black voters who could swing the election Mr. Nifong's way if he played the race card and conjured up all the racial injustices of the past, which he would now vow to fight against in the present.

Who cared whose DNA was where? This case could save Mr. Nifong's career. There was nothing "inexplicable" about what he did. Despicable, yes; inexplicable, no.

His inflammatory outbursts against the Duke students in the media are not inexplicable. Neither was his failure to follow standard procedures in presenting the accuser with a lineup that included only white Duke lacrosse players. The standard procedure of including in a lineup people who are not suspects in the case is intended to test the accuser's credibility. But why would he risk having the accuser's credibility tested before his election?

It was not a question of winning the case. It was a question of winning the election. As for the case, that was not scheduled to come to trial until a year later. If you cared about justice, you would want to go to trial much sooner, either to nail the Duke students if they were guilty or to exonerate them if they were not. But nothing suggests that this was Mr. Nifong's agenda.

Now that so many of his misdeeds have been so widely publicized, Mr. Nifong's agenda has to include keeping his job and avoiding disbarment or even being prosecuted himself.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun. His e-mail is info@creators.com.

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