Local News

Embattled Nifong Says He'll Resign

Posted June 15, 2007
Updated June 17, 2007

— The man who once pursued rape, sexual assault and kidnapping charges against three former Duke lacrosse players who were later declared innocent by North Carolina's attorney general says he will resign. (Watch Mike Nifong's announcement.)

"My community has suffered enough," a tearful Mike Nifong said Friday during his testimony at his State Bar ethics trial to the surprise of the families and defense attorneys of the cleared lacrosse players, as well as others in the courtroom. (Read more about Nifong's testimony.)

"Throughout the years, I have served as a prosecutor I have always tried to do the right thing," Nifong said. "In this case, I was trying to do the right thing. Much of the criticism directed to me is case is justified. The allegations that I'm a liar, however, are not justified."

Nifong said the day before the State Bar disciplinary committee could disbarr him that it would not be fair to the people in Durham County to be represented by "someone who is not held in high esteem."

The North Carolina State Bar had charged Nifong with withholding critical DNA test results from defense attorneys, lying to the court and Bar investigators and making misleading and inflammatory comments about the players.

The Disciplinary Hearing Commission decided Saturday that he had violated ethics rules and should be disbarred. Nifong accepted the judgment and said he would not appeal.

Nifong said he did not make all the mistakes the Bar had alleged, "but they are my mistakes."

"It has become increasingly apparent, during the course of this week, in some ways that it might not have been before, that my presence as the district attorney in Durham is not furthering the cause of justice," Nifong said.

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and 1978 graduate of the UNC School of Law, Nifong began his law career in 1978 as a volunteer for the 14th Prosecutorial District in Durham and became an assistant district attorney in April 1979.

In April 2005, Gov. Mike Easley appointed Nifong to the district attorney post after naming then-District Attorney Jim Hardin to a judgeship.

Allegations by exotic dancer Crystal Gail Mangum that she was raped, sodomized and beaten at a Duke lacrosse party in March 2006 came amid Nifong's first election run.

He won the November 2006 general election with 49 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating Durham lawyer and Democrat Lewis Cheek, who received 40 percent, and Republican Party Chairman Steve Monks, who got 11 percent as a write-in candidate.

In December, Nifong dismissed the rape charges against Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans after Mangum wavered in details of her rape account, but he proceeded with the remaining charges.

In January, Nifong recused himself from the case amid the State Bar allegations. In February, Easley publicly stated that Nifong was "probably the poorest appointment" he ever made.

And in April, Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped the case, declaring the indicted players innocent and calling Nifong's pursuit of the case "a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations."

Neither Easley nor Cooper had comments Friday afternoon. The administrative staff of the Durham County District Attorney's Office also said it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. (Read more reaction to Nifong's decision to resign.)

Nifong's soft-spoken statements were barely audible in the courtroom, where observers leaned forward in their chairs as they struggled to hear the district attorney through his tears.

"To the extent that my actions have caused pain to the Finnertys, Seligmanns and Evans, I apologize. To the extent that my actions have brought disrespect and disrepute to the Bar, to my community, I apologize," he said.

Moments earlier, Nifong said he was moved by Seligmann's testimony from earlier in the day and called him "a very impressive young man." (Read about Seligmann's testimony.)

"When I saw Mr. Seligmann on the stand today, I thought that his parents must be very proud of him," Nifong said, struggling to form the words. "I am very proud of my son. I wanted him to be proud of me. And I felt that it was important for him to see this."

Nifong's teenage son was also in the courtroom Friday, and watched as his father broke down on the stand.

Seligmann had testified how he was sure DNA would clear his name. He broke into tear as he described finding out the he was indicted and how he was going to break the news to his mother.

Nifong said that if he had talked with Seligmann early on in the investigation, at the very least, he would have talked with Mangum, and would have re-evaluated the case under those circumstances.

But the families of Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans watched with little emotion, and Evans' attorney rejected Nifong's attempt to take responsibility.

"I know it was hard for him to do and appreciate his effort, but it falls short of the mark," Finnerty's father, Kevin Finnerty said.

"It was an obvious cynical ploy to save his law license, and his apology to these people is far too little and comes far too late," defense attorney Joseph Cheshire told The Associated Press.

159 Comments

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  • Vietnam Vet Jun 17, 2007

    Of course he resigned. It always looks better down the road that you resigned from somewhere instead of being fired!!

  • angry citizen Jun 17, 2007

    djforbes22 -at- hotmail -dot- com

    I saw this coming in the 70's when Dallas and JR Ewwing become so popular. I was appalled that a show which trumpeted the idea that the ends always justifies the means would be so popular.

    The idea now seems to be a part of the fabric of the nation. No lie is too great and no injustice is too great so long as the interests I perceive to be the greater good is served. It's no great surprise that my perception of the greater good always coincides with my own self interest.

    We see in in all politics now. We see it in our so called news. Everyone has an agenda and anything which might threaten that agendra must be either buried or destroyed.

    Mike Nifong doesn't seem to be all that bright. I think he was following the obvious culture trends without being able to determing which lines can't be crossed or more importantly determining which infractions would threaten him more than the defendents.

    This nation needs soul searching.

  • Nanna Jun 16, 2007

    Stop blaming these young men for doing what half the US does every weekend. My grandchildren,children and undoubtedly myself, have all at one time or another have done things we shouldn't have, but we were lucky, we didn't have lifong on our backs. They did nothing wrong in the sense of a crime, but the hippocrits sittinnng in judgement right now, GOD help you. Lifong is the guilty one, may these young men and their families be able to pick up the pieces, small as they may seem, go on with their lives and prove to their families they raised them very well. GOD bless all the families involved.

  • jgirl5830 Jun 16, 2007

    fvb-1956, yes you are right this is the biggest injustice, 3 great kids were unfairly judged and lived a year of hell because of a dirty stripper, and an over zealous DA, but thank God everything turned out as it should for our "little angels" and yes I would let my daughter date any one of them, why because they are decent young men with a future unlike the accuser that started this whole mess, she is the one that belongs in prison or a mental institution.

  • RKBA Jun 16, 2007

    So what took so long? This is the greatest Non-News of the day.

  • hball57 Jun 16, 2007

    A quote from earlier:

    "This situation proves what poor blacks and whites have known and experience for years, i.e., Prosecutors pursue cases all the time for reasons other than having strong evidence. For this reason, there are hundreds of innocent poor black men locked up in prisons across the nation. Yet, it takes one case involving rich white guys for the NC Bar and white America to finally get it. Both were indifferent when Alan Gell and Darryl Hunt almost lost their lives because of rogue prosecutors."

    Now I don't know how well off these familes were. They did post a sunstantial bail, did hire expensive attorneys and the did go to one of the most expensive private universities around, in a sport that offers relatively few scholarships. Many are all riled up about this case; will we take the emotions and energy we are showing here to look at the injustices that happen every day?Will we have the same igdignation if it is a poor black or Lation that we have with the Duke 3?

  • wcnc Jun 16, 2007

    fvb- please tell me....how were these boys wealthy????

  • howitis Jun 16, 2007

    Comments about the falsely accused men's reputations or the behavior of the team are used by some posting here to say that these young men deserve what they got. Wow. The posters don't know anything about these men individually, and want them punished for association or for reputation. That would be called bigotry in other circumstances. I suspect the posters are jealous of anyone who works hard in life and eventually 'becomes someone'. They have no idea of the work required to master a college-level sport. They have no idea of the work required to maintain a GPA at Duke in order to keep a scholarship. It is easier to hate others than to take a look at one's self, and take responsibility for your own failures. Would I let my daughter date these young men? Absolutely. They showed incredible class and courage over the past year. Those who still hold them in judgment should work harder in life, and stop blaming others for their own problems.

  • djforbes22 Jun 16, 2007

    Our adversarial system of trying cases needs to be somehow balanced. These sorts of abuses where a person is made out to be a criminal, in the manner of a chess game or 'dis' competition, need to stop. We need to look out for the overall impact that these sorts of behaviors are having on the overall society and culture. What happened to the sense of community? Something very big is going on and our culture maybe isn't sophisticated enough to appropriately handle all the different belief systems. We need the authorities and our leaders to set examples of excellence. Apparently our society is not as far along as some of the more insulated of us like to believe.

  • ladyblue Jun 16, 2007

    This is one of the biggest injustices ever committed in our area. How can you call young college men perverts because they hired a stripper. If that's what you call them what do you call the strippers who strip. Innocent???

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