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Amid Spectacle, Nifong Goes to Jail

Posted September 7, 2007

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— After nearly 30 years of building what some called a solid reputation as a prosecutor, former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong surrendered Friday morning to serve a one-day jail sentence for criminal contempt.

With a crowd of supporters by his side, some carrying signs reading "We believe in your integrity and goodness," Nifong, along with his wife, son and attorney, marched into the Durham County Jail shortly before 8:45 a.m.

Nifong declined to comment, but said it was "a lovely day" and that he didn't want to talk to reporters anymore.

"What's it like to feel like a common criminal?" and "We love you, Mike," members of the crowd shouted at the disgraced prosecutor as he entered the magistrate's office.

Legal experts said Nifong is the first prosecutor in North Carolina to be convicted of something he did while serving in the district attorney's office.

Sources told WRAL he was in isolation, away from the general jail population, while he serves his 24-hour sentence, for safety reasons.

Last week, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith held the former Duke lacrosse prosecutor in criminal contempt for willfully making false statements in court during a Sept. 22, 2006, hearing about the case.

Smith said his decision was aimed at "protecting and preserving the integrity of the court and its processes."

"It's about the candor, accuracy and truthfulness in representations to the court, particularly in important matters where the liberties and rights to a fair trial of those accused of crime may be jeopardized by the absence of such honesty by counsel," Smith said.

Nearly 18 months ago, Nifong sought indictments for first-degree rape, sexual assault and kidnapping against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann after Crystal Mangum alleged she was raped at a team party.

The case later began to crumble with Mangum wavering in key details of her story. That forced Nifong to dismiss the rape charges in December.

Less than a month later, he recused himself from the case after the North Carolina State Bar opened an ethics complaint against him. State Attorney General Roy Cooper took over the case and dismissed the rest of the charges against the three men in April.

Evidence showed Nifong knew early on that he never had a case.

"I keep reflecting back to where we were a year ago when we were begging him to look at the truth and look at the facts, and he seemed committed to doing exactly what he pleased," said Jim Cooney, who represented Seligmann. "He probably feels like he's in a lake of fire right now. But if he does, he needs to come to the realization that he set that fire."

Seligmann's father said the family took no personal satisfaction in Nifong's sentence, but found solace that the justice system worked.

"The bottom line is it shows that there were no winners in this entire fiasco," Phil Seligmann told The Associated Press by phone from his New Jersey home. "That's clear."

In June, a disciplinary committee of the State Bar found Nifong violated several rules of professional conduct in handling the case and stripped him of his law license. He resigned as district attorney a couple of weeks later.

During his contempt hearing last week, Nifong conceded he had not been truthful about critical DNA information. Nifong explained it away as an honest mistake.

"There was clearly a misrepresentation about all that information having been in the report when it was not there, and I do apologize," Nifong said.

173 Comments

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  • peplquitwhinin Sep 8, 2007

    I think my biggest problem with the whole jsutice system is how is has turned into a competition or sport for a bunch of lawyers instead of a true search for the truth. We are often so intent on convicting or defending someone that we are blinded to the truth, and our own emotions and agendas do more than blind us to the truth. It hazes our perception of the reality.

  • seankelly15 Sep 8, 2007

    TheGraduate - I believe that the policy has a five million dollar limit - not three.

  • seankelly15 Sep 8, 2007

    thomasbrewer - Do you not understand that his will be a civil trial - not a criminal trial? The issue before the court will be whether the the DA or any of the Durham City Police violated the civil rights of the three young men subsequent to their arrest.

  • seankelly15 Sep 8, 2007

    thomasbrewer - Why would they have to testify about what happened that night? The suit will be largely about the events that unfolded after that night. There will be no basis for a cross-examination of them about the night unless one of the defense attorneys is dumb enough to question any of the men about the events of that night. And, even if they were questioned, what are you waiting for? Are you one of those that still believes something happened that night?

  • 1Moms_View Sep 8, 2007

    moi-oc, I couldn't have said it better. It was all about the election and $$$.
    So far as the justice in serving one day, I'm mixed on that. I thought the humiliation of being shut in a cell, having his mug shot taken and all the media hoopla over it might be a punishment, but see how smug he looks. He still seems to think he's above the law...just look at his expression. He's learned nothing. To him it seems to be that he got caught, not that he committed a crime and violated public trust.

    I'm curious about whether or not Jesse came through with the free scholarship. It doubtful Mangum could even get accepted into a real program with that fried scattered brain of hers though.

  • elhalema Sep 8, 2007

    I have a different take on the Nifiong situation. Sure, Nifong was a bad prosecutor but he was not a rogue prosecutor since there are many more bad prosecutors especially when the defendants are black. Gosh, even illegal immigrant defendants are treated better than black defendants. There are many black guys sitting in jail who are completely innocent, and never is there any outrage by society, especially white society. So, I get angry to now see Nifong in jail and hear that these "rich or well off white guys" will receive millions of dollars for "almost" going to jail when nothing is said of the many innocent blacks who are locked up now because of prosecutorial misconduct. In other words, the entire law enforcement and criminal justice system is corrupt with respect to blacks. I thought I would add this perspective since it appears most WRAL posters are white and unfamiliar with other perspectives. Smells like a shake down to me.

  • thomasbrewer Sep 8, 2007

    I can't wait to these so call innocent men sue the city of durham and have to appear in court to testify about that night maybe we will fine out how innocent they are. I live in durham and wishing I make the jury to hear them explain what all went on in that house under oath, maybe there were a lot more evidence then DNA that they will have to answer to.

  • imacopiceman Sep 8, 2007

    What a sad, sad disgrace to the entire judicial system.....

  • isabella731 Sep 8, 2007

    Durham is not going to pay 30 mil to the LAX three. I see civil suits a'comin'....
    As for Nifong, he'll come out today, face the cameras, take his wife's hand and go home. If those men had been convicted, it would be 30 years before they would come out, and their lives at least half-over. How fair is the justice system? Not at all, no matter what race you are.

  • illegals--GO HOME Sep 8, 2007

    Justice in this case is at the very least served as a "very cold dish"! There will never be any true justice here as the one who started this walked away with a "paid for" college tuition and will never serve a day!!! I agree with the fellow who said, let's meet at 1 pm and put this matter forever to rest. I personally am sick and tired of seeing pics of Nifong and hearing about him......he got way less than he deserved for the pain and suffering he HELPED create. Never forget WHO actually started this all......

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