More serious ethics charges filed against Duke prosecutor
The North Carolina prosecutor who targeted three Duke lacrosse players on sexual assault and kidnapping charges on Jan. 24 was named on new ethics violations, accusedofwithholdingDNAevidence from defense attorneys and misleading the court.
The new and more serious charges are in addition to an earlier complaint by the North Carolina State Bar accusing Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong of “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” in public comments about the case, which he “knew or reasonably should have known would have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing” the investigation.
TheStateBarsaidMr.Nifongalso made “false statements of material factorlaw”tothecourtregardinghis case against Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y.; Reade W. Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J.; and DavidF.Evans,23,ofAnnapolis,Md. and failed to make a “timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or informationknowntohimthattends to negate the guilt of the accused.”
“The allegations in the amended complaint speak for themselves,” saidL.ThomasLunsfordII,theState Bar’sexecutivedirector,althoughhe declined to elaborate. He said only the new charges “relate to circumstances”thatsurfacedafterthestate bar’s grievance committee filed the original complaint.”
QuestionsaboutMr.Nifong’shandling of DNA evidence in the case surfaced last month when it was learned that his office had arranged for tests through a private lab, DNA Security Inc.
DuringaDec.15pretrialhearing, DNA Security Director Brian Meehan said he shared tests results with Mr. Nifong, but a summary report given to the defense did not contain the information that semen found in the accuser’s underpants and in her body did not match any of the Duke players. He said the decision not to release the material was “an intentionallimitation”atwhichheandMr. Nifong arrived.
Itwassixmonthsafterthetestresults had been complete before Mr. Nifong informed defense attorneys about the results. During that time, he said in court motions, he was not aware of any information that could exonerate the three Duke players.
The Duke players, all white, originallywerechargedwithrestraining a 28-year-old black student of North Carolina Central University in a bathroom during an off-campus party, raping her and committing another first-degree sex offense against her. The woman had been hired as a stripper at the party.
Mr. Nifong dismissed the rape charges after a Dec. 21 interview of the woman during which she said she was not certain Mr. Seligmann hadtakenpartintheassaultandwas not sure whether she had been penetrated during the attack, a necessary element of the crime of rape under North Carolina law.
Mr.Nifonghassincehandedover the case to State Attorney General Roy A. Cooper.
TheStateBar,whosedisciplinary commissioncandismissacomplaint, issue a letter of warning, impose an admonition or reprimand, censure, suspend or disbar a lawyer, has set May11asatrialdateforMr.Nifong.
Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republicanandformerchairmanofthe House Homeland Security Committee, asked Attorney General AlbertoR.Gonzaleslastweektoassign Justice Department attorneys and the FBI to investigate Mr. Nifong’s handling of the case.
Mr. King said a review he conductedofdocumentsandsummaries of Mr. Nifong’s investigation, along with discussions with other membersofCongress,ledtohiscallforthe JusticeDepartmentprobe.Hecalled on the department to target Mr. Nifong and members of his staff, including investigator Lindell Wilson; the Durham Police Department, including Officers Mark Gottlieb and Benjamin Himan; and Mr. Meehan.
He said the investigation should determinewhether“theseandother individuals conspired to violate and violatedtheconstitutionallyguaranteed civil rights of Collin and his two former teammates.”
JusticeDepartmentofficialshave said it would be premature to initiate an investigation while criminal charges are pending.
Michael B. Nifong