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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nifong's Glory Days — He had victory in his grasp and let it slip away

Durham DA Mike <span class=Mike Nifong had won. He had clinched a victory in the contentious November 7th election with less than half (49.5%) of the 56,213 votes cast in the Durham District Attorney's race. His two self-crippled opponents, Steve "spoiler" Monks and Lewis "won't serve" Cheek had fractured the opposition.

Even the majority of Durham school children (56%) had voted for Nifong as part of "Kids Voting," a national, non-partisan program that educates students about democracy.

Nifong's strategy of prosecuting a trumped-up rape case against three white Duke lacrosse players had succeeded in getting him elected to the job that would secure his financial future.

Joe Neff of the N&O reported: "Four more years would make a big difference for Nifong's retirement. If he served five years as a district attorney, his 29 years as a regular state employee would apply to the more lucrative retirement plan for a district attorney; overnight, in April 2010, his annual pension would increase by at least $15,000 a year."

Nifong could also now look to recoup the tens of thousands of dollars of loans he had made to his primary and general election campaigns. Money he could wring out of the Durham legal establishment as tribute to his high "Minister of Justice" office.

Sticks and stones, and months and months of harsh words from critics, bloggers, columnists, pundits, talking heads on cable TV, and an Ed Bradley, Peabody Award Winning, 60 Minutes broadcast had not derailed Nifong's hoax.

Mike Nifong had pulled it off. He had cheated the truth and won. He had convinced the black voters of Durham that he was their man to stand up to lawless outsiders. He was a man of the people, who would not back down to rich northerners.

Nifong reveled in his victory. An News & Observer story entitled, "Nifong revels in victory" said:

"while receiving props from friends and supporters, the victorious D.A. allowed himself to crow just a little.

When the returns showed a clear margin in Nifong's advantage, a local lawyer went up to shake Nifong's hand and pat him on the shoulder.

"I just wanted to be the first to congratulate you," the man said.

"You aren't," Nifong said. "Most people went ahead and congratulated me yesterday."

After Nifong's election win the local papers lined up behind him.

The N&O's editorial page editor Steve Ford wrote: "Does it amount to some kind of travesty, then, that Nifong is set to continue as D.A.? Not in my book." Ford added: "But to throw him out of office on the sole basis of that performance would have had the effect of substituting the judgment of voters for the judgment of jurors."

Nifong's mouthpiece, Herald-Sun Editor Bob Ashley, was happy with the election outcome: “Whether the case is eventually tossed out on procedural grounds or proceeds to a jury trial, I’m glad it will be resolved in the judicial system, not at the ballot box.”

Nifong enablers were in

Harris Johnson (left) - former state Democratic party officialOne Nifong supporter, Harris Johnson, a former state Democratic party official and Durham resident for 56 years said, "This goes to show that justice can't be bought by a bunch of rich white boys from New York."

Nifong enabler Cash Michaels also reveled in the Nifong victory. Michaels did a virtual jig as he wrote a November 28th in-your-face, "REPORT CARD ON DUKE THREE CAUSE - 'F'," rant on the local ABC forum, which spouted:
- Despite 20 staffers investing over six months of investigation, followed by one-sided, incomplete and biased reporting directed by 1977 Duke alum and CBS News President Sean McManus, which is then deliberately scheduled right before the Durham DA’s race to defeat incumbent Mike Nifong at the polls, this massive undertaking failed miserably upon Nifong’s victory, making that high-profile effort, irrelevant.

- Despite the wild rantings of conservative columnist attorney Michael Gaynor...

- Despite fiery and passionate rhetoric about there being no evidence, no crime and a violation of the Duke Three’s constitutional rights at the hands of a “corrupt” Durham District Attorney...

So rabid racist Duke Three supporters, keep thinking you have weight in these matters if it keeps you warm at night. Cuddle up to the erroneous belief that the citizens of Durham really care what you think...
November 7th, 2006 had to have been the low point for David Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann, and anyone who believed in their innocence. Nifong could now take his hoax to trial with impunity. The next court date for the case wasn't until December 15th, thirty-eight days away. It was all Nifong's show now.

So why didn't Nifong simply declare victory and go home with the spoils?

He could have easily dropped the rape charges and said he didn't have enough evidence to take the case to trial (which just happened to be the truth). His job was no longer on the line. His future was secure and his skin toughened by months of criticism. Nifong faced little downside risk.

Nifong could have implied that something had happened at 610 N. Buchanan on the night of March 13th, 2006, but it wasn't something that he could prove in a court of law. Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann would have forever been branded as rapists, who got away with it.

All the monkey business about busted police procedures, rigged police lineups, hiding exculpatory DNA evidence, and a State Bar complaint would have disappeared. Especially, if Nifong had offered a token expression of regret over his earlier statements as he dropped the case.

But, for some unexplained reason Nifong walked into court on December 15th, 2006, and allowed Brian Meehan to testify and thereby blow his hoax to pieces.

Maybe someday Mike Nifong will speak and explain why he threw his victory away. But it's sweet justice knowing that Nifong will probably be asking himself that same question for the rest of his life.