on August 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Judge finds Nifong in contempt, orders him to jail for one day

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) _ Mike Nifong, the disgraced former Durham County district attorney, was held in criminal contempt of court Friday for lying to a judge when pursuing rape charges against three falsely accused Duke University lacrosse players.

Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III sentenced Nifong, who has already been stripped of his law license and has resigned from office, to a single day in jail. He had faced as many as 30 days in jail and a fine as high as $500.

“If what I impose with regard to Mr. Nifong would make things better or different for what’s already happened, I don’t know what it would be or how I could do it,” Smith said.

When Nifong reports to jail at 9 a.m. next Friday, it will bring an end to the criminal case that began when a woman told police she was raped at a March 2006 party thrown by Duke’s lacrosse team. The team was initially vilified as Nifong _ in his first political campaign for district attorney _ told voters he wouldn’t allow Durham to become known for “a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl.”

Nifong went on to win indictments against three players _ Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans. But as the case against them progressed, it became clear Nifong’s evidence was pitifully weak.

A North Carolina State Bar disciplinary committee later concluded Nifong manipulated the case to boost his chances at the ballot box, and he continued to pursue it even when it became clear the defendants were innocent. State prosecutors would eventually drop charges against the three men and declare them innocent victims of Nifong’s “tragic rush to accuse.”

Nifong recused himself after the state bar charged him with ethics violations, and he was disbarred in June for more than two dozen violations of the state’s rules of professional conduct.

Nifong showed no visible reaction when Smith handed down the sentence and left the courtroom with his wife, Cy Gurney. Defense attorney Jim Glover declined to comment after the hearing.

“It’s not a happy day for us, but we’re thrilled the system works, that justice has happened, and we’re moving on,” said Finnerty’s father, Kevin.

Reading his contempt decision from the bench minutes after the conclusion of two days of testimony, Smith said Nifong “willfully made false statements” to the court in September when he insisted he had given defense attorneys all results from a critical DNA test.

In fact, Smith found, Nifong had provided the defense with a report on the DNA testing that he knew was incomplete. The omitted data contained test results showing that DNA of multiple men, none of whom were lacrosse players, was found on the accuser.

“Do I feel sorry for him? I feel sorry for his family,” said defense attorney Joseph Cheshire, who represented Evans. “I think what he did was willful and intentional and damaged seriously this state and the lives of these boys and their families. I don’t feel sorry for Mike Nifong. Sorry if that sounds cruel, but I don’t.”

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.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Nifong insisted Friday he didn’t intentionally lie about whether he had turned over the DNA evidence. But he acknowledged the report he gave defense attorneys was incomplete.

“I now understand that some things that I thought were in the report were in fact not in the report,” Nifong said. “So the statements were not factually true to the extent that I said all the information had been provided.”

A defense attorney found the omitted data amid 2,000 pages of documents Nifong gave the defense months after the initial report. Nifong said that by the time he realized the data wasn’t contained in that report, “it had been corrected. The defendants already had it.”

“It was never my intention to mislead this or any other court,” Nifong said. “I certainly apologize to the court at this time for anything I might have said that was not correct.”

Earlier Friday, Brian Meehan, the director of a private lab who prepared the DNA testing report, said the omissions were a misunderstanding. He said Nifong asked him to test DNA samples from lacrosse players to see if any matched genetic material found on the woman who told police she was raped.

Although male DNA was found, no sample matched a lacrosse player. Results from the other unidentified men was referenced as “non-probative” material in the report given to defense attorneys, Meehan said.

Charles Davis, the attorney appointed to prosecute the contempt charge, asked Meehan whether Nifong’s statement to the court _ that the report encompassed everything he had discussed with Meehan _ was true or false.

“It would be false because we don’t include discussions in our reports,” Meehan answered.

On Thursday, Meehan said he was the one who decided how to prepare the report stating no lacrosse player had been linked to the accuser. When Glover asked Meehan if Nifong had asked him to leave anything out of the report, Meehan answered “no.”