Lawyers defend DA Nifong's motives

Associated Press

The former prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case did not intentionally break ethics rules, his lawyers said yesterday as they sought to keep him from being disbarred.

Attorneys for Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong acknowledged that he made many of the comments that the state bar deemed misleading and inflammatory. But they denied that Nifong intentionally withheld DNA evidence from defense attorneys.

"A lot of people have been rushing to judgment on both the underlying case and this case," attorney Dudley Witt said. "And after you allow someone to have a full hearing, I think you will find that he didn't do anything wrong."

Nifong's attorneys made the statements in a 50-page response to the bar's complaint.

Nifong handed the case against David Evans of Bethesda, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty to state prosecutors in January.

In December, he was forced to drop rape charges against the three after the 28-year-old accuser changed a key detail of her account of the alleged attack. State prosecutors have not said whether they plan to bring them to trial on the remaining charges of sexual offense and kidnapping.

Experts have said the most serious ethics charges Nifong faces are tied to his decision to hire a private lab to conduct DNA testing as part of the investigation into allegations that three men raped the woman last March at a team party, where she was hired as a stripper.

The tests found genetic material from several men on the woman's underwear and body, but none from any of the players. The bar said those results weren't released to defense lawyers and that Nifong repeatedly said in court he had turned over all evidence that would potentially benefit the defense.

Nifong's attorneys said the defense was provided with a report that outlined the results of that testing and was given notice the lab director would be called as an expert witness.

Nifong's attorneys also denied that he knowingly made false statements when asked about the test results in court and by the investigating bar committee. They said Nifong either didn't have the test results in question or had not yet considered whether those results were potentially exonerating evidence.

Allegations of withholding evidence and lying to the court were added to the initial bar complaint filed in December.

Among the rules the bar said Nifong violated is one that prohibits comments "that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

Nifong's interviews were aimed at reassuring the community the case was under investigation and to seek help from the public in obtaining information about the allegations, his attorneys said.

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