The Three Gentlemen from Durham

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Duke DA Disbarred

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — A judge said he would suspend District Attorney Mike Nifong on Tuesday after learning that the prosecutor disbarred for his handling of the Duke lacrosse rape case intended to stay in office for another month.

Earlier in the day, Duke University announced it had reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the three former lacrosse players falsely accused of rape last year.

Nifong, who was disbarred Saturday for breaking more than two dozen rules of professional conduct in his handling of the case, said in a letter released Monday that he would leave office July 13. His departure date wasn’t soon enough for Hudson, who decided to suspend Nifong from office.

Mike Nifong, ex-attorneyIt’s been clear to anyone who’s been following the case of the three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape – Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans – that the case has been mishandled from the beginning. Even if the case against the three students was airtight, it’s improper for a District Attorney to go on a national news program and call the defendants “a bunch of hooligans [whose] daddies could buy them expensive lawyers”.

But as more information came out, the hollowness of Nifong’s case became more obvious. The accuser told vastly different stories to hospital personnel and to police. She picked her assailants not out of a lineup but out of a stack of photos of the entire lacrosse team – a process guaranteed to nab a white defendant, but not the guilty party. There was little to no medical evidence of rape, and no DNA evidence connecting any of the three men. And on 60 Minutes, the other dancer who’d been performing with the accuser that night, Kim Roberts, said she hadn’t left the accuser alone long enough for an assault to have occurred.

Duke Blue Devil(To be fair, Ed Bradley’s interview with Roberts suggests that the boys were hardly gentlemen – they were drunk, rowdy, and grew irate when they felt the women stopped dancing too early. Other witnesses claimed to hear the boys yelling racial epithets at the women after they left. But none of this lends credence to a rape charge)

Now, more than a year later, all charges have been dropped and the Attorney General of North Carolina has declared the three boys “innocent.” Mike Nifong has stepped down as D.A. and, as of Tuesday morning, has been more or less fired.

So has justice finally been done? Not quite.

As mentioned above, Duke University made an “undisclosed financial settlement” to the three students whom the administration threw to the wolves. Even without seeing the check or hearing the dollar value, I can say two things about this settlement: (1) it’ll be healthy and (2) they don’t need it. Never having met the accused gentlemen in my life, I can tell you with certainty that if you’re playing lacrosse for Duke, your family’s got money.

Donde Esta Justice?So what to do with this check? Well, the three Duke boys were fortunate in that media attention resulted in increased scrutiny and the clearing of their names. But not everyone who is falsely charged gets such a fair shake. Like Ed Rosenthal, arrested by the feds for growing marijuana for the city of Oakland. Like Derek Hale, a former Marine who was tasered by police while sitting on his front steps and then (unable to lift his hands when prompted, obviously) shot to death. Or James Giles, who served 10 years in prison and 14 on probation, for a rape he didn’t commit.

Let’s be honest: race had a lot to do with this story. The media jumped all over this because it was three white boys accused of raping a poor black woman. The case was weak and the boys walked. But how many weak cases against poor black men and women have resulted in convictions because 60 Minutes, Slate and the collective outrage of America’s sports columnists didn’t pick those cases apart?

There’s a rare opportunity for these boys to become champions of the falsely accused in this country. If that wouldn’t make Duke proud of them, then I don’t know what would.