Prosecutor in Duke Case Says He Intends to Resign
Saturday, June 16, 2007
RALEIGH, N.C., June 15 -- Testifying in defense of his conduct in the sexual assault case against three Duke University lacrosse players, Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong cried and conceded that he made mistakes, apologized to the accused and their families for the "pain" the prosecution had caused, and announced his intention to resign.
"To the extent that my actions have caused pain to Finnertys, the Seligmanns, the Evans, I apologize," he said Friday during the emotional conclusion to his direct testimony at a bar hearing. "To the extent that my actions have brought disrespect or disrepute to the bar, to my community, I apologize."
But through the tears, and in a halting, quavering voice, he stuck by the contention that he had only been trying to "do the right thing," and did not intentionally withhold evidence or try to mislead.
"I cannot admit that I told a lie that I did not tell, and I still intend to defend myself against these allegations," he said.
A three-person panel of the North Carolina State Bar is considering allegations that Nifong violated ethics rules while pursuing rape allegations, brought by a stripper hired to perform at a team party, against the three players. The state attorney general declared in April that the players were "innocent."
The bar complaint accuses Nifong of making prejudicial statements in the case's early stages, lying to a judge and withholding exculpatory DNA evidence. If he is found guilty, the panel could suspend his law license or disbar him.
Regarding the ethics counts, Nifong took a middle route. He acknowledged that some of his public statements did violate rules, but he characterized the withholding of the exculpatory DNA evidence as unintentional, a bureaucratic mishap.
As the case drew ever larger media coverage, Nifong had, among other things, referred to the players as a "bunch of hooligans" and suggested that they were protecting one another behind a "wall of silence."
He testified here that some of his own statements in retrospect "made me cringe" and when asked by his own lawyers if the statements violate the rules, Nifong answered, "Yes, I would have to say so."
Asked if his statements could have made the media scrutiny more intense, Nifong said: "It's possible. The media attention would have been tremendous anyway. But I did not intend for my statements to have that effect."
Nifong denied that the months of withholding the DNA evidence -- which showed other men's DNA present but not that of the accused players -- was malicious. Instead he said it was a result of an oversight caused in part by his lack of careful notes.
He testified that he did not ask the DNA lab director to omit the complete findings from the report and became aware of their absence only after defense attorneys discovered it on their own.