The Earl of Dook, or the Continuing State of State Justice in North Carolina

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In the early 1990s, Robert Kelly, his wife Betsy, and five other residents of Edenton, North Carolina, were charged with a number of horrendous acts of child molestation. Robert and Betsy owned a daycare center called Little Rascals, and state prosecutors alleged that the pair, as well as other workers at the center, had engaged in a number of horrific acts, including baking babies in microwave ovens, throwing children to sharks in the nearby bay, ritually sacrificing animals behind the daycare building, as well as other violent acts.

How did authorities know these things had happened? These acts of horror were "disclosed" after state social workers "interviewed" a number of children who were enrolled at the center. Keep in mind that no babies had disappeared, cooked in microwave ovens or thereabouts, there was no evidence of satanic rituals anywhere, and no children were eaten by sharks. Furthermore, there was no physical evidence of the charges that the daycare workers had penetrated various orifices of the children with swords, knives, and other instruments.

If these charges sound familiar, it is because they are. From Janet Reno’s infamous prosecutions of Grant Snowden in Florida (when she was the district attorney in Dade County) to the McMartin case in Los Angeles, to Wenatchee, Washington, in the 1990s, the Edenton case was part of a line of what only can be called witch hunts in which state social workers badgered very young children until they came up with lurid tales — after having denied that those things occurred.

In most of these cases, juries convicted people despite the lack of evidence, as judges and prosecutors tag-teamed to ensure that the most prejudicial statements would be enacted, and that defendants would be prevented from effectively defending themselves. Robert Kelly, for example, was convicted in 1992 and received 12 life sentences, only to have the convictions overturned by higher courts, which noted prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. Dawn Wilson, who also received a life sentence in the case, saw her conviction overturned as well, but only after spending several years in prison.

While the Edenton Seven had it bad, it could have been worse: they could have seen the fate of Darryl Hunt, who spent nearly 20 years in a North Carolina prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. What makes his case especially egregious is that in 1990, DNA testing showed he was not the rapist (and, obviously) not the murderer of Deborah Sykes, a newspaper copy editor who was raped and murdered when she walked to work in Winston-Salem in 1984.

But even though prosecutors had ample evidence that Hunt was wrongly convicted, nonetheless they suppressed the evidence and kept him incarcerated until 2003, when DNA tests found that a man already serving time for something else was the rapist and killer. (The "new" killer also confessed to the crime.) The Kellys and Dawn Wilson were white; Hunt was black. North Carolina is an equal-opportunity state of injustice.

The Duke Case: More Injustice from North Carolina

Yet, the latest case from North Carolina, the alleged "Duke Rape Scandal," threatens to outdo even the prosecutorial abuse that seems to characterize "justice" in that state. At least in the Edenton and Hunt cases, one can argue that the prosecutors at least believed the charges when they filed them. Granted, at least in the Edenton case, prosecutors had to swallow a great deal of nonsense when they got grand juries to indict the accused, but I have no doubt that they believed them — or at least convinced themselves that the charges just had to be true.

The Duke case is different, much different, and has the potential to drive U.S. prosecution to a new low — if that is possible. As I will point out in this piece, nearly everything you have read in publications like the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and the Washington Post, not to mention the television coverage (Dan Abrams of MSNBC being the notable exception), is not true. I will say it again; the national media has perpetuated a lie that has been told by prosecutor Michael Nifong and the accuser, Crystal Gail Mangum.

(Actually, the most reliable coverage comes from the Durham Herald-Sun and the Johnsville News. Get beyond the local media, however, and the coverage is sickeningly predictable.)

It is difficult to know where to begin with this case. Most readers are familiar with the main story, or at least the story that has appeared in the mainstream media. Members of the Duke University lacrosse team during the university’s March spring break had an off-campus party in which two black strippers were hired to do a "show." According to the police version, sometime after midnight, three men dragged Mangum into a bathroom, where they choked, beat, raped, and sodomized her for 30 minutes.

After the women left the party, the police found Mangum lying "passed-out drunk" in a car in a Kroger parking lot. At that point, she claimed rape, and she was examined by a nurse at Duke University Hospital, and it was declared that her injuries were "consistent" with rape. The woman soon identified her attackers, and three indictments and arrests soon followed. Not surprisingly, there were demonstrations galore, from the obligatory candlelight vigils at Duke to gatherings and protests outside the house where the alleged attacks occurred.

Shortly after police announced the "rape," Nifong announced his belief that DNA tests performed on all 46 white lacrosse players would "identify the attackers." Unfortunately for Nifong, there were no DNA matches, and police originally spread the word that no DNA was found at all on the woman, something that ultimately would turn out to be one of many lies told by the authorities.

Undeterred by the lack of DNA, Nifong then declared two mutually exclusive things. First, he said that he did not need DNA, as eyewitness accounts would suffice; second, he told a crowd that DNA also would serve to separate the guilty from the innocent. Of course, since none of the players had DNA found on the woman’s body, he had, albeit unwittingly, declared the players innocent of rape.

Ultimately, it was found that Mangum did have DNA of another man on her, and specifically, it was the semen of another man. In fact, from police reports that were released to the defense after the arrests of Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty, and David Evans, we were to find that the woman told police that she had sex with three other men on the day of the alleged rape. Moreover, she told police that the Duke Lacrosse players who "raped" her did not wear condoms. Mangum’s parents later claimed that the players used a broomstick to sodomize her, although it is clear from the police reports and the medical examination that injuries that would be "consistent" with such an attack were nonexistent. In other words, we are dealing with another falsehood, one that Nifong refused to publicly refute.

I mention this because Mangum’s claims are instructive. First, if she had been raped and the men were not wearing condoms, their DNA would have been found on her, period. Second, in one of his 70-plus interviews that he gave he said that the alleged rapists "could have been wearing condoms" already knowing that Mangum had told the police something different.

Lying and Prosecutorial Misconduct

Unfortunately, that was not the end of Nifong’s lies. He told Newsweek that it would be likely that toxicology tests would show that Mangum had been given an alleged "date rape" drug (supposedly by the lacrosse players), which was responsible for her condition. However, neither the police nor Nifong had ordered any toxicology tests. In other words, Nifong made a claim to Newsweek that he had to have known on its face was a lie.

(Someone I respect very much has known Nifong for many years and says that he is not dishonest, but rather has backed himself into a corner. This was a "damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t" situation, he tells me. While that might be true, Nifong also has done enough things that strain his credibility.)

Lest I let Nifong off with just telling a few whoppers, there is even more. On the day after the alleged attack, police came to the house where the party was held and the occupants, including Evans, showed police around, retrieved material for them and even went to the station and spent three hours talking to police without attorneys being present. Soon afterward, Nifong publicly claimed that the lacrosse players were "putting up a blue wall of silence" and were purposely covering up a "crime." Moreover, he threatened to charge the other players with "accessory to kidnapping, assault, and rape" charges unless they came forward.

Shortly thereafter, Nifong hinted to the press that at least one player was willing to turn state’s evidence. He based his claim upon an email that allegedly one player had sent to his teammates. However, it turned out that the email was a fraud, and, according to the attorneys who represent the players, the fake email almost surely had been concocted by the police. So, we have Nifong implicated in another falsehood.

These things alone would be enough for Nifong to be disbarred, provided he worked in a state where those entrusted with the system of justice actually cared. However, because North Carolina is a playground for out-of-control prosecutors, Nifong has been permitted to go on a rampage, and he has not disappointed.

Seligmann, it turned out, had an airtight alibi. He was not even at the party at the time that Nifong and the police claim the alleged assault took place. A cab driver was able to vouch for Seligmann, and there is electronic evidence (visiting a bank teller, swiping his card to get back into his dormitory) that places the indicted "suspect" well away from the house.

When I saw a television interview with the cab driver, I blogged on LewRockwell.com that police likely would target him and possibly arrest him on trumped-up charges. Almost on cue, that is what happened. Police dug up a three-year-old warrant for shoplifting and arrested him. There are a number of things that are instructive here. First, the arresting officer was the lead detective on the Mangum case. In ordinary circumstances, detectives do not carry out arrests for shoplifting. Second, the cab driver says that the detective first asked him if he had anything to say about the case. When the cabbie said he did not, he promptly was arrested and charged.

At first, this might be puzzling. After all, in the alleged shoplifting case, the cabbie had driven a woman to a mall, where she stole some purses. He then drove her home, and told police he was not aware she had stolen anything. Furthermore, he gave the woman’s name and address to the mall security guard and the police and was instrumental in her arrest.

Those circumstances alone would cast doubt on charging the cab driver with anything, but one must remember that in North Carolina, if one is charged with a crime and convicted, then prosecutors can move to disqualify that person’s testimony in a trial. In other words, Nifong is trying to railroad a conviction on the cabbie so he can thus do away with Seligmann’s alibi, even though it is obvious that the cabbie is telling the truth.

Lineups, Lies, and North Carolina Prosecutors

The way that Mangum identified the "suspects" also was questionable and possibly illegal. The following blog (Johnsville News) gives the entire sorry episode in detail. All one can conclude is that the process was rigged from the start, built upon a foundation of lies, and continues to an uncertain ending.

Even in North Carolina, it is a felony for a prosecutor to knowingly bring false charges. I do not believe this to be a case of an overzealous prosecutor who cut corners because somehow he believed that these young men had raped Mangum, although I wish that were the case and still am willing to have someone convince me. Instead, he seized upon the case as a vehicle to win an election, and has used — and abused — the process to ramrod criminal charges against people who will spend most of their lives in prison if they are convicted, and given the state of justice in North Carolina, it cannot be stated emphatically enough that juries in that state are capable of convicting anyone, no matter how ridiculous a case the prosecutor presents in court.

During the Edenton trials, the press was transfixed by prosecutor Nancy Lamb, with her "flashing eyes" and "bobbed hair." Lamb was speaking "for the children," you see, and the press adored her. That she was making preposterous claims and attempting to destroy the lives of seven people despite all good evidence to the contrary was not even discussed. What Nancy Lamb did was immoral and, I contend, criminal, yet journalists adored her and gave her only good press.

Likewise, Nifong found himself being feted as a hero by the likes of the New York Times and others. Today, the only "blue wall of silence" is coming from Nifong and the Durham police, as defense attorneys continue to ferret out lies, lies, and more lies as they study police reports and the official records. However, now that Nifong is silent and the case is beginning to stink, the national journalists have moved on, as Newsweek now seems to be on a crusade to convince its readers that Dan Brown was telling the truth in the Da Vinci Code. It seems that no one at Newsweek is upset that Nifong lied to its reporters about the alleged "date rape drug."

There are two reasons why this case continues on, despite Nifong’s untruths. First, the mainstream "national" press wants it to be true. Such a story is vindication of all the wild rape tales campus feminists tell us — and many big-city journalists are drawn from the ranks of feminists and other practitioners of Political Correctness. Thus, anything that contradicts the story that simply must be true is going to be ignored.

The other reason is that North Carolina already has proven itself to be a state where prosecutors are permitted to run amok, make ridiculous accusations, and then be rewarded with convictions and adulation. No one in the press or in any position of authority ever suggested that Nancy Lamb or the prosecutors in the Hunt case be disbarred or even disciplined, even after it became obvious that they had obtained wrongful convictions. To the very end, prosecutors manipulated the law and the legal process to keep Hunt incarcerated, even though they had known for more than a decade that he was innocent of the charges for which he was convicted. No prosecutor went to jail or even was disciplined for that egregious act.

In the Duke case, we have witnessed a number of crimes, but all of them have been committed by the police and prosecutors, as well as by Mangum herself. These crimes cry out for justice, yet from this vantage point, Nifong and his cohorts very well may be able to obtain wrongful convictions, given the state of justice in the state where they practice that entity once known as law. One always can hope to the contrary, but Nifong already knows that he is invulnerable. The "justice system" of North Carolina will protect him, and the press will adore him as another "prosecutor as hero."

June 1, 2006

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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