On April 14, 2007, Raleigh News & Observer reporter Joseph Neff began a five part series on Nifong & the Duke Hoax case. Neff’s first series article begins:
Mike Nifong found out about the case that now threatens his career March 23, 2006, when he stopped by the office copier and found a court order demanding DNA samples from 46 Duke lacrosse players. An escort service dancer told police that three men at a team party had dragged her into a bathroom and raped her anally, vaginally and orally for 30 minutes, according to the order.In his source notes, Neff cites two people as sources for his report Nifong only learned about the nontestimonial court order (NTO) on 3/23/06 when he discovered it at his office copier.
The Durham district attorney's reaction, he later told lawyer Jim Cooney: "Holy crap, what is going on?"
One is Jim Cooney, an attorney for Reade Seligmann. As Neff noted in another series article, Cooney first met Nifong in December, 2006, nine months after Nifong’s “copier discovery.”
Neff’s use of Cooney’s “Holy crap, what is going on?” account of Nifong’s reaction gives a seeming “You are there” dimension to the “discovery” story but, as Neff makes clear, what Cooney says is based not on Cooney’s observation of Nifong’s “discovery,” but on what Nifong told Cooney.
And we know about the reliability of what Nifong tells attorneys, judges, and all of us.
Neff’s only other source for his “copier discovery” report is David Saacks, Nifong’s chief assistant district attorney. It was Saacks who signed the NTO request.
Saacks certainly could have been standing right by the copier when Nifong made his “discovery.” Or he could have been down the hall in his office and heard Nifong exclaim, “Holy crap, what is going on?”
Maybe “the discovery” happened just the way Neff reports it.
But that means Saacks went ahead and got the NTO order without ever discussing it and the hugely troubled and hugely politically significant “Duke gang-rape” case with Nifong, who was then in a hotly contested primary race for the Democratic nomination for DA.
Did Saacks go ahead without saying anything to Nifong? Did Nifong really know nothing about the case until he made his “Holy crap” “copier discovery?"
Color me very skeptical of what Joe Neff reports.
There’s one thing we can all be sure about: It’s greatly to both Saacks' and Nifong’s advantage to be able to say they never spoke about the NTO before 3/23/06.
If they didn’t speak about it, there’s no need to ask sticky questions such as:
Before seeking an unprecedented NTO to obtain DNA and mug and torso photos from 46 citizens based solely on their race and membership on a sports team, what did Durham’s District Attorney and its Chief Assistant District Attorney say to each other about the accuser’s failure to ID any of the alleged rapists?
Did they say to each other anything about police officers’ and the second dancer’s statements that the accuser’s story was a “crock?”
What did they say about hospital records from Duke and the accusers many conflicting stories?
Folks, I hope you take a look at this comment from a citizen journalist at the Editors’ Blog. The comment includes a lot of information we should all bear in mind before accepting as fact Neff’s account of Nifong’s “copier discovery.”
Recently attorney Michael Cornacchia, representing Collin Finnerty, one of the three innocent men framed by Nifong and others sent NC Governor Michael Easley and Attorney General Roy Cooper a letter in which Cornacchia made a number of requests, including:
that a special prosecutor be appointed, either an attorney in private practice of the highest caliber and integrity, or members of General Cooper's Special Prosecution Unit who demonstrated their professionalism so well in their recent investigation,.I hope a special prosecutor is appointed and a “investigative grand jury” impaneled.
Once appointed, a special prosecutor can seek court approval for the convening of an "investigative grand jury" pursuant to NCGS Section 15-623.
There is ample predicate for this. After all, General Cooper has found that Mr. Nifong and the Durham Police Department arrested and prosecuted three innocent, young men for crimes that did not occur. …
It has been said that the institution of ethics charges against Mr. Nifong is sufficient to address the situation. This is not so. This forum only will determine if the codes governing the conduct of attorneys, generally, and district attorneys, specifically, have been broken by only Mr. Nifong.
It will not, and cannot, address the conduct of the members of Mr. Nifong's office, the officers of the Durham Police Department and others such as Mr. Meehan. …(emphasis added)
And at some point during the investigation, it will be very important to ask Saacks and others in Nifong’s office whether Nifong really only learned about the case and the NTO when he said he had his “Holy crap” moment at the copy machine.
No one in Nifong’s office discussed the case, including the NTO, with him before 3/23/06?
For a much more positive take on Neff’s report of the “copier discovery,” see KC Johnson’s post: “Neff’s Scoops”
Hat tip to Liestoppers. com which published Cornacchia’s letter in full on its main page. The letter is very interesting. Read it if you have time.