Terra Sigillata

We’ve been out-of-town for a few days but the election day “Ask A ScienceBlogger” requested that we note a local election of special import.

One cannot live in the North Carolina Research Triangle area without being aware of the polarizing re-election campaign for Durham district attorney, Mike Nifong. Nifong, whose claim to fame has been the indictment of Duke men’s lacrosse players in the alleged rape of a hired stripper, has been viewed widely as using this case as the basis for his re-election.

Simply Google “Duke lacrosse case” and you’ll know of which I speak. Let it suffice to say that many in the Duke and Durham communities are looking very closely at this race, regardless of where they stand of the virtues of the case itself.

Nifong had been running unopposed but an opponent (Lewis Cheek) was drafted by a citizen’s position. Cheek has no intentions of serving if elected, leaving NC Gov. Mike Easley to appoint a DA should Nifong lose.

Like many in our community, I came out as very critical of the Duke lacrosse team when allegations of gang rape and reports of racial epithets surfaced following a March 13 team party held as the team remained in town to practice while fellow students were on Spring break.

However, as the months have passed, the veracity of the accuser has come into serious question and her fellow dancer at the party has not helped Nifong’s case. While the public is not privy to all of the evidence, it is now clear that one or more of the accused players could not have even been at the party at the time of the alleged attack (his videotaping at an ATM I use often, more than three miles from the house where the party took place, is convincing enough for me of his innocence).

However, it is Ed Bradley’s double-length ’60 Minutes’ feature that most strongly calls into question the lack of factual support for continuing to prosecute the case. Nifong’s myopic pursuit of the case was most prominently called into question by a Duke law professor, James E. Coleman, Jr., who held forth further that Nifong may be guilty of misconduct in his push to rig the mugshot lineups such that only a Duke lacrosse player could be selected. Coleman, incidentally, is a black attorney who led the revision of the NC lineup process, initially aimed to prevent misidentification of suspects. Michael Gaynor has a more in-depth analysis of the 60 Minutes report and his take on the case.

While I am rarely a fan of elections involving, “anyone but candidate X,” I can assure readers that I will not be voting today for Nifong. I believe strongly in the rights of rape victims and support those who, like me, believed originally that a crime was committed. Moreover, I abhor the arrogant, racist, and misogynistic behavior of some collegiate jocks.

But I also abhor the actions of public officials who use cases of diminishing merit to divide a community for their own personal political gain.

In Durham, it is time for Nifong to be given his walking papers.


  1. #1 etbnc
    November 7, 2006

    Durham voters may find additional helpful information in the Independent Weekly’s analysis of the situation (italics mine):

    An insightful profile in The News & Observer sheds some light, however. The story recounts Nifong’s 1994 prosecution of a similar case in which a woman accused a man of raping her at gunpoint. Nifong stuck with the case despite little physical evidence because he believed in a woman’s right to bring her alleged assailant to trial. The jury acquitted the defendant in that case. Only time will tell what happens with this one.

New comments have been disabled.