One year ago today the Raleigh News & Observer published Duke Law School Professor James A. Coleman Jr’s letter to the editor.
I thought some of you would like to reread it today, perhaps while you’re taking a break from watching DA Mike Nifong’s trial before the NC State Bar.
Under the head, Special prosecutor should take over Duke case, the letter began:
Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong should ask the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor for the rape case against three Duke lacrosse players and then remove himself and his office from further involvement. This is the only way to restore some degree of public confidence in the handling of the case. Up to now, virtually everything that Nifong has done has undermined public confidence in the case.Some letter, isn’t it? Coleman was describing a frame-up: “Any three students would do; there could be no wrong choice.”
The circumstances under which the alleged victim identified the three defendants is typical. An assumption has been that Nifong and the Durham police merely botched the procedures under which the alleged victim identified the three members of the lacrosse team whom she claims raped her. According to the police account of the identification, however, the police officer who presided over the proceedings told the alleged victim at the outset that he wanted her to look at people the police had reason to believe attended the party. Thus, the police not only failed to include people they knew were not suspects among the photographs shown the woman, they told the witness in effect that there would be no such "fillers" among the photographs she would see.
This strongly suggests that the purpose of the identification process was to give the alleged victim an opportunity to pick three members of the lacrosse team who could be charged. Any three students would do; there could be no wrong choice. The prosecutor would not care if the pre-trial identification was subsequently thrown out by the court. The accuser would identify them at trial by pointing to the three defendants seated in front of her as the three men who assaulted her. The prosecutor would argue that she had an independent basis (independent of the identifications thrown out) for doing so.
Whatever the truth is, Nifong can no longer personally restore public confidence in the prosecution of this case. Someone with professional detachment and unquestioned integrity must review the case and determine whether the evidence against the three students warrants further prosecution. That would serve the best interest of the alleged victim, the three defendants and public.
James E. Coleman Jr.
Duke Law School
But the frame-up didn’t work. Coleman played a critical role in making sure it didn’t work.
The three young men who were indicted owe him a great deal as do all the rest of us who want to live in a society of laws instead of what the Nifong’s always create: a police state.
Thank you, Professor Coleman.