I would like to thank all those who comment for their insightful and intelligent statements, especially Walt-in-Durham. It is my intention to get a discussion board soon on the justice4nifong.com web site (it is currently undergoing complete renovation to make it more interesting, more interactive, more entertaining, and easier to navigate) so that these interesting comments can be more widely viewed and provoke more involvement.
There are several issues brought up by Walt with which I strongly disagree. Foremost, I believe that Mr. Nifong’s handling of the Duke Lacrosse case was well within accepted standards practiced by prosecutors throughout the state, and I do not believe that anything that he said or did compromised their ability to get a fair trial. Furthermore, I believe that other prosecutors have conducted themselves far more egregiously. North Carolina prosecutors have destroyed key exculpatory evidence (Theodore Jerry Williams case), fabricated false confessions (Floyd Brown case), produced false eyewitnesses (James Arthur Johnson case), withheld crucial exculpatory evidence in obtaining a capital conviction (Alan Gell case), withheld key exculpatory evidence of possible murder weapon (Michael Peterson case), held people in jail for years on charges without probable cause (Gerardo Vilchez and Victor Hugo Lopez), and much more. Yet none of these prosecutors have been disciplined or disbarred. Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception. And it is this selective and excessively harsh treatment against Mr. Nifong that is the crux of our objection to his disbarment. Discipline of state prosecutors should be equally applied by the State Bar, not selectively. And if all of the prosecutors were held to the standards used to disbar Mr. Nifong, then 95% of the prosecutors in North Carolina would be disbarred.
With regards to my ascertain that the prosecutors, police and media whipped up a frenzy against James Arthur Johnson, Walt-in-Durham attributes Mr. Nifong’s statements to the media about the Duke Lacrosse case to be equally as detrimental to the defendants. I disagree on several fronts because the cases are not that comparable. In the James Arthur Johnson case, it was Johnson who went to the Wilson Police department with information that solved the murder, kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery of Wilson teen Brittany Willis. Johnson had no part in the crime, and the Wilson investigators knew it. However, when James Johnson mentioned that he had wiped fingerprints off the victim’s car, the prosecutors felt they had a charge they could fall back on, and set about to implicate him in the crime. They did this by telling the killer, Kenneth Meeks, that his friend had snitched on him. As they expected, the angry young lad, then implicated James Johnson to get even with him for going to the police. The police then used this statement from the confessed killer as the sole reason for charging Johnson as an accomplice in the crime. Why would they go after Johnson even though they knew he was innocent? The answer is “transference.” Kenneth Meeks and James Johnson are both African Americans, and because one African American lad commits a heinous crime, the urge on the part of police and prosecutors is to punish as many African American boys as possible, without regard to their innocence or guilt. The Wilson Police and prosecutors knew Johnson was innocent, but they tried to convict him and sentence him to death anyway. UNC School of Law Professor Rich Rosen speaks about this specifically in his article “Framing an innocent man: Prosecutor in Johnson case demonstrated racial discrimination.” Something similar happened in the Eve Carson murder. After two young African American boys were arrested and charged with the murder, Governor Mike Easley offered a $10,000.00 reward for anyone who may have had contact with them, using a charge of “accessory after the fact.” It was as if they were trawling for other young African Americans to punish in order to help quench their rage.
The Wilson Police and prosecutors, in arresting Johnson, knew that he was innocent, but persisted, even though he had helped solve the crime. Their reasoning is as follows: Johnson and Meeks kidnapped Brittany, Johnson kills Brittany, then after the family and friends offer a $20,000.00 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator Johnson goes to the police to turn in his accomplice for the crime so that he could collect the reward. Although there is no evidence linking Johnson to the crime, the police and prosecutors by their statements to the public and their actions lead the people of Wilson to believe Johnson was involved in the crime. The media does not question in their editorial or opinion pages why the police would arrest the young man who solved the crime, and they do not question why he did not receive the reward which he had earned.
Had the police, prosecutors and media acted responsibly, James Arthur Johnson would have been considered by the townspeople as being a hero for going against the “no snitch rule” of the streets, held out as a role model to other young black youth, and received the $20,000.00 reward from a grateful Willis family. Instead, he spent 39 months incarcerated, awaiting trial while the prosecutor tried to force him to accept a plea deal. The prosecutor knowing they couldn’t go to trial once Kenneth Meeks recanted his statements which implicated Johnson, then arranged for two eyewitnesses with links to the Wilson Police Department. When Reverend Barber got involved, they had to shelve that and move forward with Johnson’s act of wiping fingerprints off the car. So, they arranged for Belinda Foster to come in as a special prosecutor, drop the charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery (which they knew they couldn’t win), and charged him with “accessory after the fact.” After wasting a considerable amount of taxpayer money with a private sector special prosecutor, Johnson finally accepted an Alford plea to a charge of waiting three days before telling police about his knowledge of a crime. A great injustice caused by gross prosecutorial misconduct, but the Wilson prosecutors are protected by the attorney general, the State Bar, and the media.
The Duke Lacrosse case is much different because the defendants were all present at the party on that fateful evening in March 2006. The defendants were identified by the victim/accuser with 80-100% positive identification. The Duke lacrosse team, in particular, had been known for its raucous parties in the past, and the lacrosse coach had been warned beforehand to rein in his party-going team members. The raucous party of March 2006 was living up to its well-deserved reputation, with drugs, booze, under-aged drinking, and hired strippers when the alleged assault took place. When, the victim/accuser left the party, racial epithets were also alleged to have been hurled at the African American accuser.
Eyewitness identification alone is often grounds used by North Carolina prosecutors to bring sexual assault charges against an individual, even lacking the presence of any physical evidence. Ronald Cotton, an African American male who was picked up off the street and placed in a line up, was identified by a female rape victim as her assailant. After serving a decade or so in jail he was released when exonerated by DNA evidence. Dwayne Dail, was identified by a twelve year old sexual assault victim who believed that she recognized him in a supermarket. Without evidence tying him to the crime, he was convicted and spent nearly two decades in jail before being released by DNA evidence. In these two cases the accuser/victims with absolute certainty got the identification of the assailant wrong, however, the prosecutors prosecuting the cases were not hauled before the North Carolina State Bar, disciplined or disbarred. Nor were the prosecutors’ names dragged through the mud by the media. Finally, the prosecutors were not ostracized by the public. In relying on the victim/accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case, Mr. Nifong was well within the prosecutorial standards of North Carolina prosecutors in charging the three defendants with crimes, as he did.
Now, some may say, as you, Walt, that nothing untoward took place that March evening in 2006... that the complaint lodged by the alleged victim/accuser was nothing more than a hoax. I presume this belief is based on the fact that the State Bureau of Investigation, under Attorney General Roy Cooper investigated and found that no crime had been committed. My response to that is, how can one have credence in anything the SBI says after it investigated the injuries sustained by inmate Timothy Helms while in solitary confinement, and can’t figure out how he sustained two skull fractures (leaving him a quadriplegic) and welts over his torso consistent with those made by billy clubs. No charges were filed against the correctional officers who had contact with Mr. Helms, however, Mr. Helms was charged with setting a fire and destroying state property.
The truth is that we will never know what happened that night in the house on Buchanan Street because the Attorney General took over the investigation, and essentially quashed it. Like others, especially those more familiar with the case than I am, I agree that some wrongdoing took place against the victim at the Duke lacrosse party. The exact nature of the crime(s) I am unsure. But what I am certain of is that Mr. Mike Nifong conducted himself with acceptable standards of prosecutors throughout the state, which makes his selective disbarment all the more outrageous.
I am not exactly certain why the media, locally, nationally, and worldwide, latched onto the Duke Lacrosse case. However, the media chose to zero in on the Duke Lacrosse case, and a slew of reporters were sent to the Bull City to cover it. Mr. Nifong was merely attempting to cooperate with the news media by giving interviews, from what I can tell. I do not recollect any statements he made which were so inflammatory that it would assure a conviction. In my opinion, a jury that is seated for a trial will base its verdict on the evidence that is presented, and not rely on statements made in a television interview. I have confidence in North Carolinians to be more responsible when placed in a position to decide the fate of a defendant. I believe pre-trial interviews by both defendants and prosecutors are far over-hyped in importance… especially in the Duke Lacrosse case. But whether in the Duke Lacrosse case, the James Johnson case, or any other case, once an individual is charged with a crime, he/she is automatically perceived by the public to be guilty, for why else would they be charged in the first place? So any pre-trial statements made by attorneys do not convey the weight of importance as is being suggested in the Duke Lacrosse case.
In summation, the willful charges and actions against James Johnson by prosecutors who knew of his innocence in crimes against Brittany Willis, along with unbalanced coverage by the media, were responsible for turning James Johnson from a hero to a villain, and dividing the town along racial lines. On the other hand, charges entered against the three defendants in the Duke Lacrosse case by Mr. Nifong, were made in good faith, and based, in part, upon statements made by the victim/accuser. It was the media, not Mr. Nifong, who stirred up the public, again, with its unbalanced reporting. If anything, Mr. Nifong can be sited for trying to cooperate with the media by responding straight forwardly and honestly to all of their questions. In the final analysis, the media whipped up a frenzy against defendant James Arthur Johnson, whereas they whipped up a frenzy against prosecutor Mike Nifong in the Duke Lacrosse case. Selectively and unjustly in both instances.