Local News

Amid Spectacle, Nifong Goes to Jail

Posted September 7, 2007 5:34 a.m. EDT
Updated September 7, 2007 6:02 p.m. EDT

— After nearly 30 years of building what some called a solid reputation as a prosecutor, former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong surrendered Friday morning to serve a one-day jail sentence for criminal contempt.

With a crowd of supporters by his side, some carrying signs reading "We believe in your integrity and goodness," Nifong, along with his wife, son and attorney, marched into the Durham County Jail shortly before 8:45 a.m.

Nifong declined to comment, but said it was "a lovely day" and that he didn't want to talk to reporters anymore.

"What's it like to feel like a common criminal?" and "We love you, Mike," members of the crowd shouted at the disgraced prosecutor as he entered the magistrate's office.

Legal experts said Nifong is the first prosecutor in North Carolina to be convicted of something he did while serving in the district attorney's office.

Sources told WRAL he was in isolation, away from the general jail population, while he serves his 24-hour sentence, for safety reasons.

Last week, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith held the former Duke lacrosse prosecutor in criminal contempt for willfully making false statements in court during a Sept. 22, 2006, hearing about the case.

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.

Nearly 18 months ago, Nifong sought indictments for first-degree rape, sexual assault and kidnapping against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann after Crystal Mangum alleged she was raped at a team party.

The case later began to crumble with Mangum wavering in key details of her story. That forced Nifong to dismiss the rape charges in December.

Less than a month later, he recused himself from the case after the North Carolina State Bar opened an ethics complaint against him. State Attorney General Roy Cooper took over the case and dismissed the rest of the charges against the three men in April.

Evidence showed Nifong knew early on that he never had a case.

"I keep reflecting back to where we were a year ago when we were begging him to look at the truth and look at the facts, and he seemed committed to doing exactly what he pleased," said Jim Cooney, who represented Seligmann. "He probably feels like he's in a lake of fire right now. But if he does, he needs to come to the realization that he set that fire."

Seligmann's father said the family took no personal satisfaction in Nifong's sentence, but found solace that the justice system worked.

"The bottom line is it shows that there were no winners in this entire fiasco," Phil Seligmann told The Associated Press by phone from his New Jersey home. "That's clear."

In June, a disciplinary committee of the State Bar found Nifong violated several rules of professional conduct in handling the case and stripped him of his law license. He resigned as district attorney a couple of weeks later.

During his contempt hearing last week, Nifong conceded he had not been truthful about critical DNA information. Nifong explained it away as an honest mistake.

"There was clearly a misrepresentation about all that information having been in the report when it was not there, and I do apologize," Nifong said.