Local News

'Something Happened,' Nifong Maintains

Posted June 15, 2007 5:57 a.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2007 11:25 p.m. EDT

— Even after saying Friday he intended to resign as Durham County's lead prosecutor, Mike Nifong was incapable of agreeing that no crime was committed inside 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. during a Duke lacrosse team party that began March 13, 2006.

Asked if he still believed whether the accuser was attacked, Nifong paused for several seconds late Friday afternoon before answering although he could not say it was a sexual assault, "something happened to make everybody leave that scene very quickly."

The district attorney testified that he initially formed his belief that a rape had occurred on March 27, 2006, based on the opinions of the investigating officers and the opinion of the sexual assault nurse examiner.

He believed it up until Dec. 22 of that year when he dismissed the charges against Reade Seligmann, David Evans and Collin Finnerty, he said.

Nifong testified for more than eight hours Friday before his attorneys called several other witnesses to testify on his behalf.

Among them were the SANE nurse, Tara Levicy, who examined Crystal Mangum on March 14, 2006, hours after the alleged assault, and several character witnesses who have worked with Nifong spanning his nearly three-decade law career.

The ethics trial adjourned at about 8:45 p.m. and was scheduled to resume 9 a.m. Saturday. State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission Chairman F. Lane Williamson said he hoped to begin with closing arguments and deliberations.

If the three-member committee finds that Nifong violated State Bar ethics rules, the hearing will immediately go into a second phase in which a punishment would be determined.

Nifong faces charges that he lied to the court about potentially exculpatory DNA evidence and withheld it from defense attorneys in the case.

Since opening their case on Tuesday, State Bar prosecutors have largely focused on the DNA testing, specifically when Nifong learned about the full extent of the test results and when he shared that information with the defense.

Nifong gave defense attorneys an initial report on the DNA testing in May 2006 that said private lab DNA Security Inc. had been unable to find a conclusive match between the accuser and any lacrosse players. But lab director Brian Meehan testified this week that he told Nifong as early as April 10, 2006 -- a week before Seligmann and Finnerty were indicted -- about the more detailed test results.

Nifong said when he gave the defense the initial report, he "believed at the time that I had given them everything." In court documents and hearings in May, June and September, he told two different judges that he had no more evidence that could be considered helpful to the defense.

He said he didn't realize until months later that the additional DNA information was missing.

"My first reaction was a variation of 'oh crap,'" Nifong said. "'I didn't give them this?'"

The DNA tests found genetic material from several males in the accuser's underwear and body, but none from any lacrosse player. Aware of those results, Nifong pressed ahead with the case and won indictments against Seligmann, Evans and Finnerty.

Nifong also admitted to charges that he violated ethics rules when he spoke publicly about the case early in the investigation, including when he called the players a "bunch of hooligans" and confidently proclaiming he wouldn't allow Durham to become known for "a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl."

"The comment about race was not a comment that should have been made," Nifong said.

Nifong said he "maybe got carried away a little bit" but spoke publicly to let the public know the allegations were being taken seriously and also to attempt to get more information about the case.

When he realized he wasn't getting any information from the public about the case, he said he stopped.