Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One case out of 70,000 from another perspective

In Barry Saunders’s column titled “There’s a new DA in town,” in today’s News & Observer, the newly sworn in Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline is quoted as saying, “… one case out of 70, 000 damaged Durham. Not just the DA’s office, but all of the citizens, too.”

She is, no doubt, singling out the Duke Lacrosse case, and I happen to agree with Ms. Cline, however, my perception is entirely different, I am sure. The great tragedy that resulted from the Duke Lacrosse case is that the citizens of Durham lost a prosecutor, with 27 years experience, who was the epitome of what a “minister of justice” should be. Throughout his career, former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong prosecuted cases using the principle of “equal justice for all,” and did not follow the North Carolina justice system tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.” Mr. Nifong would not allow pressure from the wealthy and powerful to influence his actions in seeking justice. He would not allow the forces of power and money to dictate how he ran his office.

Because of his independence in pursuing equal justice for all, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper persecuted and prosecuted Mr. Nifong (with the State Bar and State Board of Elections joining in) to make an example of him. What is most outrageous, and what the media keeps from the public, is the fact that Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor ever to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception. And that is remarkable, when one considers the numerous cases of injustice and the overwhelming magnitude of the damages suffered by innocent victims of the state’s prosecutors.

So even though my point of view differs from that which is widely held by the media-indoctrinated public, my perceptions are closer to those held by Lady Justice. For example, Lady Justice and I would include at least a couple of more cases in that 70,000 figure mentioned by Ms. Cline. One case would be that of Erick Daniels who was arrested (for armed robbery) while in class at a middle school, was convicted by Durham prosecutor Freda Black (in large part based on the shape of his eyebrows), and sentenced to fourteen years, for which he served seven before being released when an appellate attorney filed on his behalf. The other case is that of novelist Michael Peterson, who was denied a fair trial when Durham Prosecutors James “Jim” E. Hardin and Freda Black withheld exculpatory evidence (the existence and testing of a possible murder weapon) from the defendant’s attorney. In that trial, Mr. Peterson was convicted and has already served many years behind bars.

Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline and the majority of people in Durham may not believe that the cases against Erick Daniels and Mike Peterson have damaged their city. And they may believe that the Duke Lacrosse defendants (who received $7 million each from Duke University, were proclaimed “innocent” by Attorney General Cooper, and are now seeking an additional $10 million each from the cash-strapped city) are victims in the Duke Lacrosse case. But from where Lady Justice and I stand, the perspective is very different.

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