Monday, June 19, 2006

Duke: What Next?

Nobody wants to be Mike Nifong. The Durham County District Attorney is bring a rape case against three Duke lacrosse players. Nifong has stopped talking to the press. Earlier this month, he turned down an interview with Newsweek, blaming "media speculation" for problems with the case. But, if the case comes to trial, Nifong faces some big obstacles.

A judge ordered all of the players(except one, who is black) on the team to take a DNA test, and none of the results matched DNA found on the accuser. She says that her attacker did not use a condom. Papers filed by the defense show medical evidence that is consistent with rape, but also say that what happened could have been caused by "normal sexual activity" that the woman had had with two men earlier that week. Whether or not she was raped, the jury will not like the sound of that. A woman who has sex with two men in one week talking about rape? Give me a break. Of course, what the woman did earlier in the week and with whom she did it has nothing to do with the case, but the jury will have a hard time putting it out of their minds.

The accuser has already been put on trial in the news media. Stripper. Exotic dancer. The accuser's name hasn't been revealed, but some people act as though she doesn't have one. According to Newsweek, the Duke players "allegedly raped an exotic dancer." WRAL TV, a local station, said that "an exotic dancer told police that lacrosse athletes raped her." If the accuser were a dentist or a lawyer or an elementary school teacher, would people in the press identify her by her job? Maybe, and maybe not. (The fact that she is a stripper will have to come up if the case goes to trial--after all, that's why she was at the house.) Some people can't ignore that. Geraldo Rivera joked that "It's not just the nuns that get raped. Strippers can get raped, too." OK, so maybe Geraldo isn't a fair indicator of public opinion. But,the fact that she is a stripper will make the case a lot harder for Nifong, and it has already.

The third sticking point is the election. Nifong just narrowly won another term, beating two other candidates, one white and one black. He got almost twice as much of the black vote as the other white candidate. He indicted players Seligmann and Finnerty just two weeks before voting day. Stories like this one in Newsweek and this one in a North Carolina paper have suggested that Nifong brought the case not to win justice for the accuser, but to win the election. While the political stuff probably won't come up in court, jurors will have read about it.

It would be embarrassing at this point, but, with all that has happened, Nifong may end up dropping the case. In a perfect world, no jury would be swayed by the accuser's job or the DA's politics. But, this isn't a perfect world. Depending on the way you look at it, Nifong did either a very brave or a very astute thing by bringing the case, but now it just looks very stupid.

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