Local News

Police: Nifong Moved Forward With Case, Despite Problems

Posted June 12, 2007

— Mike Nifong acknowledged inconsistencies in an exotic dancer's story that she was raped, beaten and sexually assaulted at a Duke lacrosse team party but decided to move forward with the case anyway, the lead investigator on the case testified Tuesday.

During an initial meeting at Nifong's office, Investigator Benjamin Himan said, he and his supervisor met with the district attorney to review the evidence and status of the case and that Nifong made a comment "to the effect, 'You know we're ******.'"

Among that evidence were search warrants, interviews with the accuser, Crystal Mangum, the second dancer and three lacrosse co-captains who lived at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., where the March 13 party took place.

"He said it was going to be a circumstantial case - he said, she said - and that's how most rape cases are," Himan testified. "He said it was going to be hard to prove."

Nifong also insisted pressing ahead on indicting lacrosse player Reade Seligmann, even though detectives could not place him at the party at the time of the alleged incident, he testified.

"We didn't have any DNA. We didn't have him at the party," Himan said of Seligmann. "It' was a big concern to me to go for an indictment when we did not even know where he was -- if he was even there."

The testimony irritated attorneys for the lacrosse players. They said Himan's account was further proof that Nifong should have backed off the troubled case.

"When everyone who knew anything about the investigation kept saying, 'There's no evidence, slow down,' Mr. Nifong kept going forward," said Jim Cooney, who represented Seligmann. "To hear the details is just chilling."

Wrapping up more than three hours of testimony in which North Carolina State Bar prosecutors questioned him on every aspect of the investigation, Himan said he agreed with Attorney General Roy Cooper's decision to dismiss charges against Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans.

"Through interviews, it was a fact that Crystal was lying," he said "Every time she was questioned on something, she improvised it. … I don't know exactly what happened at that house, but I don't believe a sexual assault occurred."

The civil proceedings resume Wednesday at 9 a.m. in which Nifong's attorneys are expected to cross-examine Himan.

"Right now, you've heard the direct testimony," Nifong's attorney, David Freedman, said after the hearing. "I believe there's a lot more information the investigator has to add on cross-examination."

Nifong is on trial facing State Bar charges that he violated rules of professional conduct while handling the case for nearly a year. He is accused of making statements prejudicial to the defendants, making false statements to the court and withholding exculpatory DNA evidence from defense attorneys.

If the Bar's three-member Disciplinary Hearing Commission decides he is guilty, he could be disbarred.

"This didn't have to happen, and the horrible consequences were entirely foreseeable," State Bar Counsel Katherine E. Jean said during her opening statement. "The harm done to these three young men and their families and the justice system of North Carolina is devastating."

Freedman, in his opening statement, recounted the very early days of the case, highlighting evidence he said led Nifong to believe a crime had occurred.

"It is not unethical to pursue what someone may believe to be an unwinnable case," Freedman said. "That is not an issue here today."

Freedman said Nifong made about 98 percent of his statements early on in the case before suspects were identified and charged.

"I believe you will hear him testify that he regrets making those statements," Freedman said, adding that Nifong wanted to solve the reported crime and wanted to urge people to come forward with information about the case.

"And then, he stopped talking, realizing it would be improper to go on," Freedman said.

Jean also talked about meetings Nifong had with the Dr. Brian Meehan, director of DNA Securities Inc., at which she said Nifong learned that none of the players' DNA matched that material found in and on the Mangum.

"There is no evidence - none - of any sort of agreement with Mr. Nifong and anybody to exclude evidence," Freedman said.

Prior to Himan's testimony, Finnerty's defense attorney, Wade Smith, took the witness stand and testified that Nifong's actions in the early days of the Duke lacrosse investigation were "far over the line" and helped contribute to media frenzy when he made comments about the case.

"I think the statements he made, in effect, took this case out of the court system and deposited it in the hands of the public," Smith said during his testimony, which lasted more than an hour. "It was removed from the jurisdiction of Superior Court and put into the hands of the people of Durham County."

Smith also testified that he and other defense attorneys representing other lacrosse players had tried at least twice to meet with Nifong to talk about the case and engage in dialog.

"He said he was not hearing what we had to say," Smith said. "He said that he knew more about the case than we knew and that he knew things that we did not know. … The meeting ended with our feeling that we had pushed as far as we could."

Worried the pending ethics charges might result in an unfair trial, Nifong asked Cooper's office to take over the lacrosse prosecution in January. By then, most experts and legal observers had long since concluded the case could not be won.

Cooper agreed in April and dropped all charges against the three players. In a stunning rebuke, Cooper said there was no rape or attack, calling the indicted players "innocent" victims of a rogue prosecutor's "tragic rush to accuse."

Nifong's trial is garnering national interest as crews spent Monday wiring the courtroom at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. For the first time in history, the State Bar is holding a trial there to accommodate the large crowd.

The courtroom was opened at 8 a.m., and people were turned away because of a lack of space.

Among those watching from the gallery Tuesday were the mothers of Finnerty and Evans. Seligmann and Finnerty are expected to attend the trial at some point. Attorneys for all three players were in the courtroom Tuesday.

175 Comments

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  • jgriffith3792 Jun 13, 12:28 p.m.

    I agree with some of the other comments, Crystal Magnum needs to be held responsible. She was ultimately who started this.

  • casp3r Jun 13, 10:12 a.m.

    workerbee= Nothing would have been done if the shoes were on the other foot. There was a case not to long ago in Tenn where a white man and women was raped and murdered by 4 african americans and not one big news channel said a word about it except fox. I guess that wouldnt sell newspapers, go figure.

  • casp3r Jun 13, 10:07 a.m.

    amvaugha= For some odd reason I think this whole case was about race. So to take it out now would be against everything that caused this. I think we should all get our pots and pans and meet at the court house!!

  • rj2 Jun 13, 10:00 a.m.

    Nifong deserves 10 years in prison along with the false accuser. Why does she get off scott free? Didn't she lie under oath? Scooter Libby got a couple of years for that.
    Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the racist Black Panthers should be ashamed of themselves. Oh, I forgot, Sharpton and Jackson have no shame about anything.

  • Sword0lite Jun 13, 9:53 a.m.

    Sean_kelly - "Irrespective of your feelings about how Duke handles their faculty, they are free to operate their university any way they like."

    Would you say that it's okay for a parent to murder his or her child in the home because it was done on private property that is paid for with that parent's wages? Murder is murder, whether it's done using private funds or public funds. In supporting Nifong & Ms. Mangum, Duke aided & abetted social murder. They should suffer the consequences.

  • atozca Jun 13, 9:38 a.m.

    "For everyone that makes the Jesse, Al, NAACP comments. You are showing your racist side to the fullest extent." All they represent is racism. Your defense of these shows your racist side to the fullest extent!

  • AM is Back to Being Immaculate Jun 13, 9:37 a.m.

    How about we all cease to be ignorant and completely remove race from this situation. Nifong did something wrong and regardless of the race of the people involved, he's going to pay for it. Jesse, nor Al, nor the NAACP are the voice for the entire black community and it is quite silly to keep bringing them up. Maybe if we stopped paying attention to them, they would running their mouths.

  • Sword0lite Jun 13, 9:35 a.m.

    Just Thinking wrote, "How about the case in Wilson where the young man is presently in jail for over three years without a trial. Can we shine a spotlight on the DA and Police investigation there too?"

    YES! Start a blog, write a book, or film a documentary about it! "The Thin Blue Line" is a great example of a documentary that made a difference for someone wrongfully convicted. Just make sure you get your facts straight!

  • GoodToGo Jun 13, 8:42 a.m.

    tomlouky...do you realize that a group of black men kidnapped, raped and "killed" a white couple in VA not too long ago and neither the media nor Jessie, nor al has had much of anything to say about it!...the government and media are afraid it will make white folks feel bad black folks and so it's not considered a hate crime so therfore not much publicity!!...the only news from the NAACP was that they probably deserved it!!!

  • tomlouky Jun 13, 8:34 a.m.

    "For everyone that makes the Jesse, Al, NAACP comments. You are showing your racist side to the fullest extent."

    Maybe Jackson, Sharpton, et. al., should close their eyes, open their hearts, and truely ask themselves: Would I say the same thing, take the same actions, take the same stand, feel the same way...if the men in this case were black and the woman was white.

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