D.A. in Duke case should apologize

Matthew White

In Durham, North Carolina, the lives of several young men were traded to win an election.

District Attorney Mike Nifong, involved in a tough re-election campaign, brought charges against several young men, accusing them of raping an exotic dancer. But from the start, the dancer’s story had problems. And instead of exploring those problems, Nifong used the publicity against the young men for his own gain.

Nifong referred to the young men as “hooligans” in the media, and he worked to create the image of rich and successful young men exploiting a poor black woman. He reminded everyone that the young men were members of the university’s lacrosse team, which has a reputation in the community for less-than-perfect behavior.

Following Nifong’s lead, the Duke community was whipped into a frenzy. Students protested white-on-black violence. Eighty-eight professors placed a letter in the university’s newspaper citing racism and sexism on behalf of the lacrosse team. Duke President Richard Brodhead even suspended the team’s season.

Pretty much everyone was willing to consider the lacrosse team guilty before giving them a chance to prove their innocence. Too bad pretty much everyone was being mislead.

Since Nifong’s re-election, the North Carolina bar has filed ethics charges against him in response to his “public relations” campaign, and has accused him of engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deception, or misrepresentation.” In all, the association found more than 100 instances in which he spoke against the players in the media when he shouldn’t have.

But that’s not all.

It’s been uncovered that Nifong withheld DNA evidence that would have proven the young men did not rape the accuser. Also, Nifong overlooked many contradictory versions of the accuser’s story. Quite simply, the accuser was never all that credible to begin with, but it didn’t matter since she was Nifong’s ticket to victory.

When Nifong’s conduct came into question last December, he dropped the rape charges, but charges of sexual offense and kidnapping remain. Because of Nifong’s incredibly poor handling of the case, it’s been turned over to Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s attorney general.

Nifong may not last long in his current position, but the young men he exploited will continue to suffer from his selfishness. The men have been invited to return to Duke but have missed several semesters of coursework and had their season ruined. While they can sue Nifong (and I would encourage them to do so), they will always have this cloud hanging over their college memories. And, regardless of the outcome of the trial, these young men will never totally escape the damage of being smeared by the media.

Although the case isn’t over, the villain is pretty obvious. It’s time for Nifong to give up his office and apologize to all his victims.

Matthew White is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].