Local News

Duke Case a Tragedy, Cooper Tells '60 Minutes'

Posted April 15, 2007 9:31 a.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2007 8:51 a.m. EDT

— Neither Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong nor his staff ever challenged the contradictions of the Duke lacrosse rape accuser, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper told CBS News.

“We don’t think that any of these tough questions were asked of her,” Cooper said in his first interview with correspondent Leslie Stahl since he dismissed all charges against David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty.

The interview was part of a “60 Minutes” report about the Duke lacrosse case, which aired Sunday.

Cooper said the story of the accuser—Crystal Mangum—continued to change as his investigators talked to her.

“We started out knowing we had a problem…and the way it turned out, it was much worse than we thought,” Cooper said.

According to court records, Mangum initially told Durham police that she was raped, sodomized and beaten for a 30-minute period during the early-morning hours of March 14 in a bathroom at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., where she performed as an exotic dancer.

That led to a grand jury indicting all three men on charges of first-degree rape, sexual offense and kidnapping.

But as the case continued, defense attorneys questioned contradictions to her story, which included the timing of the alleged assault and the number of people involved.

"All of this was a tragedy because it should have been stopped somewhere along the line. Good prosecutors, we demand them to look hard at the facts, look hard at the law," Cooper said. "We also demand them to change their minds if the facts so dictate. Here, these contractions were clearly pointing to the fact that this attack did not occur. And it's disappointing and really outrageous that it was not stopped sooner."

Among the new stories Mangum told, according to CBS News, was an account of the rape in which she contradicts the account she gave Nifong that led to him dropping rape charges back in December.

“She was suspended in mid air and was being assaulted by all three of them in the bathroom,” Cooper recalled the accuser saying. “And I’ve been in that bathroom and it was very difficult for me to see how that could have occurred.”

Cooper told Stahl that his investigators were shocked by the situation.

“A number of them said to me, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’ he said. "It was amazing how she could continue to tell different stories.”

Cooper also said he was offended by Nifong’s behavior during his nearly yearlong handling of the case.

“When you have a prosecutor who takes advantage of his enormous power and overreaches like this, then yes, it's offensive,” Cooper said. “It’s an affront to the more careful prosecutors who do their jobs well every day.”

Sunday’s report also included interviews with Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann – their first since being cleared of the charges. Cooper not only dismissed the charges but declared them innocent.

“To have people in front of your house banging pots with (signs that say), 'Castrate,' 'Real Men Tell the Truth,' 'Sunday Morning, Time to Confess,' and (Nifong) going out there and saying all these things before any piece of evidence had ever been presented is just mind boggling,” Evans said.

Finnerty told Stahl that the dismissal has given him his life back after a "hopeless" year in which he thought the case would end many times.

“There was probably about 15 times during the last year when people would say, ‘It's over, you know, it's going to be done, just give it a couple of days,’ and it would never happen,” Finnerty said.

Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans said they are now making plans for their lives for the first time in a year -- for Evans that means a job on Wall Street and for Seligmann and Finnerty, going back to college -- and don't want to focus on Mangum or why she told the story she did.

"I think she’s a very troubled woman," Evans said. "We’re not vindictive people. We don’t want to take her away from her children. We hope that she gets help. And hopefully … we won’t have to hear that name ever again."

As for Nifong, Seligman said he should "absolutely" be punished for the way he handled the investigation but Evans said he is withholding judgment .

"I can only imagine it's very difficult for him to go home and have go look his son in the eyes and have to answer the questions that he probably has for him," Evans added.