Local News

Embattled Nifong Says He'll Resign

Posted June 15, 2007 3:56 p.m. EDT
Updated June 17, 2007 11:59 a.m. EDT

— 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. ()

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.