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Nifong Defiant After Taking Oath for New Term

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was sworn in for his first four-year term early Tuesday and later sounded like someone unconcerned with the mounting criticism over his handling of the Duke lacrosse case.

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DURHAM, N.C. — District Attorney Mike Nifong, under fire for his handling of the Duke University lacrosse case and public statements he has made about the investigation, was sworn in for his first four-year term early Tuesday out of the public eye.

Nifong insisted he didn't make the call to keep out the media or the public from the ceremony, but said he scheduled it for 8 a.m. so his staff could go straight to work afterward without dealing with the media.

"This was not a media event. This was an event that is required for us to do our jobs," Nifong told reporters after he was sworn in. "The message we're trying to send is: This is 2007. We're here to do our jobs. We're not here to help you guys sell newspapers or get press coverage."

Durham County Sheriff Worth Hill, whose office runs the courthouse, said it wasn't his decision either. But the building doesn't open to the public until 8:30 a.m.

Despite mounting criticism and questions surrounding his handling of the Duke case, Nifong sounded like a man who's sure of himself.

"I'm elected to do a job, and I intend to do that job," he said.

An N.C. Central student told police she was beaten and raped by three Duke lacrosse players while performing as a stripper at a March 13 team party. Juniors Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty and 2006 graduate David Evans face kidnapping and sexual offense charges.

All three players have denied any wrongdoing, and defense attorneys have repeatedly hammered the prosecution's case, calling into question the accuser's identification of the players and the lack of DNA evidence of an assault.

Nifong last month dismissed rape charges against the three players, saying he couldn't meet the state standard to prove rape because of the woman's uncertainty over details of the alleged attack.

Last week, the State Bar filed an ethics complaint against Nifong, saying his statements to the media early in the investigation constituted fraud, deceit or dishonesty. The complaint could result in sanctions or even disbarment.

"Obviously, we'd all prefer to have a different situation than what I have," he said Tuesday.

With his wife and son at his side, Nifong said he didn't create division in the community by expressing outrage publicly over the rape allegations.

"I don't feel I'm part of the problem. I feel that I have assisted in revealing the problem," he said. "Durham has some healing to do, and I need to be part of that healing process."

The state Conference of District Attorneys has publicly stated that Nifong should remove himself from the lacrosse case. He refused to address that subject Tuesday, saying he would reserve those kinds of issues for the courtroom.

"If we get to the point where it appears that my presence in an investigation or anything like that is a hindrance, then we can deal with it at that time," he said.

The next pretrial hearing in the lacrosse case is scheduled for the week of Feb. 5.


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