Nifong gets day in jail for criminal contempt in Duke rape case
DURHAM, N.C. -- The prosecutor who led the now-discredited rape case against three Duke University lacrosse players was held in criminal contempt of court Friday for lying to a judge when pursuing charges against the athletes.
Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III sentenced Mike Nifong to a day in jail. The former Durham County district attorney, who was already stripped of his law license and had resigned from office, had faced as many as 30 days.
"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.
Nifong showed no visible reaction when Smith handed down the sentence, and he left the courtroom with his wife, Cy Gurney.
Reading his decision from the bench minutes after the end of two days of testimony, Smith said Nifong "willfully made false statements" in September when he insisted he had given the defense all results from a critical DNA test.
Smith found that Nifong had provided the defense with a DNA testing report that he knew to be incomplete. The omitted data contained test results showing that DNA of multiple men, none of whom were lacrosse players, was on the accuser.
Smith said his decision was aimed at "protecting and preserving the integrity of the court and its processes." He said truthfulness is especially important when it comes to the rights of the accused to a fair trial.
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 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 eventually dropped all charges against the three men and declared 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. He resigned a month later as district attorney.
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 information wasn't 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, the director of a private lab who prepared the DNA testing report said the omissions were a misunderstanding.
Brian Meehan said Nifong asked him to test DNA samples from lacrosse players to see whether any matched genetic material found on the accuser.
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 Meehan was asked whether Nifong had asked him to leave anything out, Meehan answered, "No."
Defense attorney Jim Glover declined to comment after the hearing.
Finnerty's father, Kevin, said, "It's not a happy day for us, but we're thrilled the system works, that justice has happened, and we're moving on."
Joseph Cheshire, an attorney for Evans, said he felt sorry for Nifong's family, but not Nifong.
"I think what he did was willful and intentional and damaged seriously this state and the lives of these boys and their families," he said. "I don't feel sorry for Mike Nifong. Sorry if that sounds cruel, but I don't."