Local News

Nifong Guilty of Criminal Contempt; Sentenced to 1 Day in Jail

Posted August 31, 2007 6:25 a.m. EDT
Updated September 1, 2007 9:48 a.m. EDT

— Former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was held in criminal contempt of court Friday for lying to a judge when pursuing rape charges against three falsely accused Duke University lacrosse players last year.

Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III sentenced Nifong, who has already been disbarred and has resigned from office, to a single day in jail. He faced as many as 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500.

"If what I impose, with regard to Mr. Nifong, would make things better or different for what's already happened, I don't know what it would be or how I could do it," Smith said.

Reading his contempt decision from the bench minutes after the conclusion of two days of testimony, Smith said Nifong "willfully made false statements" to the court in September when he insisted he had given defense attorneys all results from a critical DNA test.

Smith found Nifong had provided the defense with a report on the DNA testing that he knew was incomplete. The excluded data contained test results showing that DNA of multiple men, none of whom were lacrosse players, was found on the accuser.

Smith said his decision was aimed at "protecting and preserving the integrity of the court and its processes."

"It's about the candor, accuracy and truthfulness in representations to the court, particularly in important matters where the liberties and rights to a fair trial of those accused of crime may be jeopardized by the absence of such honesty by counsel," Smith said.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Nifong insisted Friday he didn't intentionally lie about whether he had turned over the DNA evidence. But he acknowledged the report he gave defense attorneys was incomplete.

"I now understand that some things that I thought were in the report were in fact not in the report," Nifong said. "So the statements were not factually true to the extent that I said all the information had been provided."

Defense attorney Brad Bannon, who represented David Evans, found the excluded data amid 1,844 pages of documents Nifong gave the defense six months after the initial report.

Nifong said that by the time he realized the data wasn't contained in that report, "it had been corrected. The defendants already had it."

"It was never my intention to mislead this or any other court," Nifong said. "I certainly apologize to the court at this time for anything I might have said that was not correct."

Defense attorney Jim Glover declined to comment after the hearing.

"It's not a happy day for us, but we're thrilled the system works, that justice has happened, and we're moving on," said Kevin Finnerty, whose son, Collin Finnerty, was falsely prosecuted by Nifong.

Joseph Cheshire, another attorney for Evans, said he felt sorry for Nifong's family, but not Nifong.

"I think what he did was willful and intentional and damaged seriously this state and the lives of these boys and their families," he said. "I don't feel sorry for Mike Nifong. Sorry if that sounds cruel, but I don't."

Earlier Friday, Brian Meehan, the director of a private lab who prepared the DNA testing report, said the omissions were a misunderstanding. He said Nifong asked him to test DNA samples from lacrosse players to see if any matched genetic material found on the woman who told police she was raped.

Although male DNA was found, no sample matched a lacrosse player. Results from the other unidentified men was referenced as "non-probative" material in the report given to defense attorneys, Meehan said.

Charles Davis, the attorney appointed to prosecute the contempt charge, asked Meehan whether Nifong's statement to the court - that the report encompassed everything he had discussed with Meehan - was true or false.

"It would be false because we don't include discussions in our reports," Meehan answered.

On Thursday, Meehan said he was the one who decided how to prepare the report stating no lacrosse player had been linked to the accuser. When Glover asked Meehan if Nifong had asked him to leave anything out of the report, Meehan answered, "No."

When Nifong reports to jail at 9 a.m. next Friday, it will bring an end to the criminal case that began when exotic dancer Crystal Mangum told police she was raped at a March 2006 party thrown by the co-captains of Duke's 2006 lacrosse team.

Nifong went on to win indictments against three players – Evans, Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

The troubled case took a turn in December when Nifong dropped rape charges against Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann after Mangum said she wasn’t 100 percent sure she was raped.

In January, Nifong recused himself from the case amid charges he had violated ethics rules, and in April, state Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the remaining charges and declared the three defendants innocent victims of a “tragic rush to accuse.”

Nifong was disbarred in June for more than two dozen violations of the state's rules of professional conduct during his prosecution of the lacrosse case. He resigned as district attorney a month later.

Nifong now faces the possibility of civil lawsuits from the falsely accused players. And 3rd District Rep. Walter B. Jones has called a number of times for a federal investigation into Nifong's handling of the case.

“It was a tragedy for the system that everything so badly misfired, and frankly, it was a tragedy for Mike Nifong,” said James Cooney, Seligmann’s attorney.