Local News

Nifong Admits Some Criticism Justified

Posted July 28, 2006
Updated January 7, 2007

— Mike Nifong is trying to reassure voters that he's the man for the job a day after a potential challenger said he won't pursue the district attorney job.

Nifong admitted Friday that there's some justification to criticism about how he handled the media with the Duke case.

"My handling of the media coverage of this case has occasioned substantial criticism, some of which is undoubtedly justified," Nifong said during a half-hour press conference. "I both underestimated the level of media attention this case would draw and misjudged the effect that my words would have. That having been said, this case remains a Durham problem and it demands a Durham solution."

Nifong said the election should be based on his 28-year career, not just the Duke lacrosse rape case.

"I understand someone is calling this the 'Anybody but Nifong' election, and I guess that goes with the territory," he said.

Lewis Cheek, whose name will appear on the November ballot challenging Nifong but who won't actively campaign, had criticized Nifong's handling of the case in which a woman told police three Duke lacrosse players

beat and raped her at a party in March. The three players charged have denied the accusations.

Nifong also said there was evidence he hoped to have in the case, such as DNA, but that it didn't pan out.

"There were things we hoped to have in terms of evidence that we ended up not having," Nifong said.

However, Nifong said that he stands behind the case.

"I have not backed down from my initial assessments of the case," Nifong said.

Cheek, 55, has said he was approached about running for the job by people dissatisfied with how Nifong has handled the rape investigation. He earned a place on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate with a signature drive that drew well over the required 6,303 names.

If Cheek wins, Gov. Mike Easley would have to appoint a successor.

"I am struck by the irony that this group of citizens wants to use this procedure to make an end run around the electorate now," Nifong said. "I believe that Durham's district attorney should be selected by the voters of Durham, not by the governor."

Nifong came forward early in the investigation to say he believed the woman who said three Duke lacrosse players had raped her during a team party on March 13. At one point he labeled some players "hooligans" and predicted DNA test results would identify the guilty.

The tests, as described by defense lawyers, didn't conclusively link any of the players who submitted samples to the accuser.

Nifong said he did not pursue the case as any political agenda. He said he was vocal about the case in the beginning because he wanted potential witnesses to come forward and to assure the community that the case was in good hands. He also said that no case has been ignored because of the attention to the Duke lacrosse rape case.
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