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One Week Before Primary, DA Candidates Face Off Over Duke Case

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DURHAM, N.C. — Exactly one week from Tuesday, Durham voters will elect a district attorney. Much is at stake in this race, because now the eyes of the nation are fixed on the candidates.

There are three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Current D.A. Mike Nifong is running for office for the first time, since the previous D.A. who stepped down appointed him to the post. But at Tuesday's public forum, his challengers focused little on his record in office, and a lot on the past month.

It was a rare chance to hear Nifong speak publicly about the Duke lacrosse case that has dominated the public's attention in recent weeks.

"It's not me that's trying this case in the media," said Nifong. "The defense is trying this case in the media."

Nifong stopped granting interviews three weeks ago. But his opponents for Durham DA say the damage is already done.

"I would've kept my mouth shut, analyzed the data, be intelligent and thoughtful and make proper decisions," said candidate Keith Bishop.

Bishop and Freda Black blasted Nifong's initial response to the case when he spoke openly with national media.

"I'm afraid there's been irreparable harm that has been rendered to the case," said Black.

Black, who is a former assistant district attorney, worked on the Michael Peterson murder case. She said she granted interviews only after a verdict.

"We never discussed the case with the media, and never discussed the case with reporters," she said. "We made a pact that that would be the last thing we do."

Looking forward, Nifong reaffirmed his commitment to the case. Looking back, he admits some regret.

"I underestimated the attention the case would get if I let the news media know why I was going to take the case," he said.

Nifong hit his opponents on their records. He said Bishop has no experience as a prosecutor and little in criminal court. He also said in nine years in the D.A.'s office, Black tried seven homicide cases, while in one-third of that time he tried 11.

Since there are no Republicans running, the primary winner will automatically win the post. The primary will take place next Tuesday.


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