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Former Duke lacrosse rape case D.A. to resign
Nifong still might lose law license, admits improper remarks about players
Gerry Broome / AP
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RALEIGH, N.C. - Breaking down in tears at his ethics trial, Mike Nifong abruptly quit as district attorney Friday after admitting he got “carried away” with statements during his discredited rape prosecution of three Duke University lacrosse players.
Catching even his attorneys by surprise, Nifong said he would resign and regretted making improper statements about the players.
“My community has suffered enough,” Nifong said at his trial on allegations that he violated rules of professional conduct.
State prosecutors who took over the case have declared the players innocent.
The North Carolina State Bar alleges Nifong withheld DNA test results from the players’ defense attorneys, lied to the court and bar investigators and made misleading and inflammatory comments about the three athletes who’d been charged with raping a stripper at a team party in March 2006.
Nifong said he wanted to own up to his mistakes, but that he did not make all the mistakes alleged by the bar.
“I will go to my grave being associated with this case. And that’s OK,” Nifong said. “Whatever mistakes I made in this case were my mistakes. But they’re not all the ones that the bar says I made, but they are my mistakes.”
Nifong’s soft-spoken statements were barely audible in the courtroom, where observers leaned forward in their chairs as they struggled to hear him through his tears.
The families of players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans watched with little emotion, and Evans’ attorney rejected Nifong’s attempt to take responsibility.
“It was an obvious cynical ploy to save his law license, and his apology to these people is far too little and comes far too late,” Evans lawyer Joseph Cheshire said.
Nifong started in the Durham County prosecutor’s office nearly three decades ago as a volunteer attorney fresh out of law school. If convicted by the disciplinary committee, he could lose his license to practice law in the state.
Nifong acknowledged he was likely to be punished by a disciplinary committee for maybe getting “carried away a little bit” when talking about the case. He said he regretted some of his statements, including a confident proclamation that he wouldn’t allow Durham to become known for “a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl.”
The three players who were charged are white.
He also testified about the DNA tests, saying that when he turned over the report to the defense, he “believed at the time that I had given them everything.” He said he didn’t realize until months later that additional DNA information was missing.
“My first reaction was a variation of ‘Oh crap. I didn’t give them this?”’ Nifong said.
The DNA tests found genetic material from several males in the accuser’s underwear and body, but none from any lacrosse player. Aware of those results, Nifong pressed ahead with the case and won indictments against Seligmann, Evans and Finnerty.
“We went from being viewed as athletes to being viewed as rapists,” Seligmann testified earlier Friday.
State prosecutors would later conclude the three players innocent victims of a rogue prosecutor’s “tragic rush to accuse.”