FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mike Nifong and the North Carolina 5

by MIKE STARK

Apparently, there’s a line in North Carolina that even prosecutors are forbidden to cross–and Mike Nifong found it.

Mike Nifong was the district attorney in Durham, N.C., who was subjected to public hearings, disbarred, forced to resign and may now face criminal charges for his role in the Duke lacrosse rape case.

Nifong’s public repudiation had nothing to do with concern for due process, the rights of the accused or constitutional liberties–which are routinely flouted by a whole slew of characters in North Carolina (and everywhere else in the U.S.), from street cops to corportate lobbyists to good-old boy politicians.

Nifong crossed the line when he used prosecutorial practices routinely used against ordinary working people to target the powerful and privileged. More damning still, Nifong’s efforts (whatever his intentions) exposed the rot at the heart of the elite (and ostensibly liberal) Duke University.

Nifong is no hero. It’s clear that he botched the investigation into charges by an African American woman that she was raped by Duke lacrosse players at a team “party” in March 2006. Nifong failed to get toxicology reports, conduct a recorded interview with the victim, or even build a decent account of events of the night of the alleged rape.

But these failings haven’t stopped North Carolina prosecutors in the past–and the state bar’s decision to strip Nifong of his ability to practice law reeks of hypocrisy.

* * *

THERE ARE five obvious reasons why the North Carolina State Bar’s decision to disbar Nifong stinks. They are Samuel Poole, Christopher Spicer, Timothy Hennis, Alfred Rivera and Alan Gell.

All five men were sentenced to die in North Carolina’s execution chamber. All five had their convictions overturned because of flimsy evidence, unreliable witnesses and the outright illegal actions of prosecutors. All five were released–but only after living through a combined 14 years of hell as they waited to die.

But to my knowledge, no prosecutor ever faced disbarment or criminal charges as a result of their misconduct in these cases. In the case of Alan Gell, the North Carolina State Bar conducted a two-day hearing that resulted in a tepid letter of reprimand. At the time, Dudley Humphrey, then-president of the NC Bar, said Gell was not a victim in the case, “The system was the victim.”

During Poole’s death penalty trial, prosecutors failed to provide any substantial evidence of his involvement in the crime. Spicer’s case was based on snitch testimony that involved a secret deal prosecutors never disclosed to the defense (when he was finally retried, the jury took 15 minutes to acquit him).

When the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned Hennis’ conviction, it called the evidence against him “extremely tentative.” Rivera was released because jurors were prevented from hearing evidence of his frame-up. In Gell’s case, prosecutors illegally withheld evidence that would have cleared Gell, including an audio tape of one of the state’s main witnesses saying she made up her story about the murder.

The North Carolina State Bar barely recognized these five travesties of justice. In fact, the state’s legal establishment has been nearly completely silent on issues related to the death penalty–including evidence of racist sentencing patterns, prosecutorial misconduct and inadequate defense for the poor. It has opted out of efforts to halt the state’s death penalty, instead choosing to support meek reform measures.

By contrast, Nifong did possess significant evidence to pursue the rape case. There was a traumatized victim, the testimony of an examining nurse who said a rape had taken place, physical evidence of assault and disgusting e-mails that circulated among the Duke students–like one that read, “I’ve decided to have some strippers over and all are welcome. I plan on killing the bitches as the [sic] walk in and proceed to cut their skin off while cumming in my duke spandex.”

As the mainstream media accounts increasingly sided with the student “victims” accused of rape, these undisputed facts were forgotten.

Nevertheless, the lack of a toxicology report made it impossible to prove whether the victim was drugged at the “party” (which, besides the obvious trauma, would explain her contradictory and confused statements), and the lack of DNA evidence may simply have indicated the assailants used condoms.

There was no “exculpatory” evidence proving the innocence of the suspects. Instead, the case dissolved mostly because there was no “smoking gun.”

This is how the justice system is supposed to work. If prosecutors fail to build a decent case, then suspects should walk.

There may be some who believe that there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of sexism and racism being played out in the Tar Heel state–that at least a prosecutor was publicly made to account for overstepping the boundaries.

It was, after all, quite a thing to watch law enforcement officials from across the state testifying in solemn tones about the sacred duties of prosecutors to defend justice, and not simply seek convictions.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath. When North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper recently suggested legislation that would allow the state Supreme Court to remove prosecutors from cases where it saw injustices (the same court charged with administering the state’s capital punishment system), that was too much for House Speaker Joe Hackney, who quickly voiced opposition to such measures.

Georgetown Law Professor David Cole observed in his book, No Equal Justice, that there is a zero-sum game involving the legal rights of defendants in the U.S. The impressive array of formal rights guaranteed to defendants under the Constitution appears to be prefaced by the assumption that those rights are only afforded to the well-heeled and well-connected.

Death row prisoners like Alan Gell have no reason to think they will ever be provided the same standard of justice as the three Duke lacrosse players.

The campaign against Nifong, the elevation of the Duke defendants as hapless victims and the vilification of the alleged rape victim have nothing to do with justice. The state bar hearings will reassure the unbridled arrogance of the wealthy and self-absorbed frat scene in the area.

As an antiwar activist going to school near Duke during the first Gulf War, I recall that it seemed like there was a connection between the Chapel Hill frat boys who pelted peace activists with ice-cold water balloons during winter vigils and the murder of the owner and manager of the left-wing Chapel Hill bookstore, Internationalist Books (found shot, nothing stolen, no suspect arrested). The frat boys’ “fun” experience attacking activists may have been the casual expression of a deeper culture of violence.

The truth of what happened the night of the Duke lacrosse team’s “fun” could remain buried forever, but as Mike Nifong recently said, “I still believe something happened in that bathroom that night.”

Nifong’s attackers have cloaked themselves in the rights of defendants and principles of justice–but it’s clear that when it comes to who they want these principles to apply to, they mean “just us.”

MIKE STARK is a national board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and a regular contributor to the New Abolitionist, the newsletter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and to the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at mikestark2003@yahoo.com.

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail