The NY Times Sunday Book Review chose Jeffrey Rosen, law professor at George Washington University, to review Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson’s Until Proven Innocent.
Professor Rosen gives the book the equivalent of at least an “A,” maybe an “A+.”
From the Scottsboro Boys to Clarence Gideon, some of the most memorable legal narratives have been tales of the wrongly accused. Now “Until Proven Innocent,” a new book about the false allegations of rape against three Duke lacrosse players, can join these galvanizing cautionary tales.I think Nifong knew a lot more than he’s admitted so far, but otherwise I agree with what Rosen says about the case and the book.
We know how the story ended: the attorney general of North Carolina dismissed all charges against the lacrosse players, declaring them completely innocent, and he denounced Michael Nifong, the district attorney who brought the case, as a “rogue prosecutor.” Nifong was not only disbarred and disgraced; his name has become a synonym for gross prosecutorial abuse. To be “Nifonged” now means to be railroaded.
In their riveting narrative, Stuart Taylor Jr., one of America’s most insightful legal commentators (and a former reporter at The New York Times), and KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, portray Nifong as “evil or deluded or both.” They call him a “race-baiting demagogue” who tried to fan racial hatred against innocent white students (and lock them up for 30 years) in order to win black votes in his re-election campaign.
Soon after an African-American stripper claimed she had been gang-raped at a Duke lacrosse party, the authors charge, Nifong should have known that the woman he called “my victim” was lying. She made the claim of rape only when threatened with confinement in a mental health center.
She then recanted and re-recanted, offering a series of contradictory claims to having been raped by 20, five, four, three and two players, before finally settling on three, none of whom she could confidently identify. Her fellow stripper at the party called her story a “crock.”
Nifong didn’t know all this, however, because, incredibly, he never interviewed his “victim” about the facts. Instead, he set out systematically to demonize the accused players, violating pretrial publicity rules while suppressing evidence of their innocence.
After the accuser proved unable to identify her assailants during two photo lineups, Nifong told the police to give her a third chance, showing her pictures only of the 46 white lacrosse players without any pictures of “fillers,” or nonsuspects. This violated local, state and federal rules for reliable identification procedures.
There’s a lot more to the review before Rosen concludes:
Taylor and Johnson have made a gripping contribution to the literature of the wrongly accused.In terms of its effect on a book's sales, the NYT Sunday Book Review Section's review is one of the most important. Rosen’s review guarantees Until Proven Innocent will jump onto bestseller lists and stay there for months. What’s more, Taylor and Johnson will now have to pick-and-choose among talk show, conference and news organization interview invitations.
They remind us of the importance of constitutional checks on prosecutorial abuse.
And they emphasize the lesson that Duke callously advised its own students to ignore: if you’re unjustly suspected of any crime, immediately call the best lawyer you can afford.
Good for Taylor and Johnson. Their success is deserved. They were in the forefront of the fight to expose the injustices of the Duke Hoax. They've written a fine book. And they’ve continuously reminded us of the stake every American has in the Duke Hoax case.
Anyone who thinks the Hoax case is only about a few Duke lacrosse players should consider this: In July last year the Friends of Duke University, a group formed to encourage the university to treat the players more fairly, invited Duke’s President, Richard Brodhead, to join with them in that endeavor.
Brodhead dismissed the Friends’ invitation; and told them he was looking forward to the players being put on trial where Brodhead said they’d have a chance to be “proved innocent.”
A few months later on 60 Minutes Brodhead whined to the late Ed Bradley that following the accusations of gang-rape, he faced a very difficult ordeal because “the facts kept changing.”
When the president of one of America’s major universities stands our justice system on its head by declaring a trial is the place where his students will have a chance to be “proved innocent;” and then whines about facts changing; and all the while he’s doing that, his university’s trustees are sending out emails to alums telling them what a great job their president is doing, it’s time for every American to sit up, take notice and ask: “What’s happening to the America our founders bequeathed to us?”
Until Proven Innocent explains why we should all be asking that question. We ignore its lessons at our peril.
Rosen's review is here.