A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an open letter to you. While I doubt you read it, I cannot say I gave you bad advice. In fact, it was good advice, and from what I can tell, at least you have decided not to take this Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case to trial. Instead, you are now planning how best to escape from this evil gift that Michael B. Nifong left you last January.
The question for you, then, is this: How do I best deep-six this case without alienating my various Democratic constituencies? Well, I am glad you asked that question, because I just happen to have an answer. Mr. Cooper, simply tell the truth.
If you remember, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ, “What is truth?” Look, you do not have to be so philosophical here; you don’t have to define truth, but rather just the particular truth in this case, the unvarnished truth.
What is the truth here? It is simply this: the entire case was and is a hoax. There was no rape, no kidnapping, and no sexual assault. Crystal Gail Mangum made up the entire thing and Nifong was all too happy to take advantage of her lies. Furthermore, he managed to get a large portion of the black community in Durham worked up to a point where the only thing they wanted to know was who would be arrested and when.
Now, Mr. Cooper, you will be tempted to give the standard prosecutorial line: We do not have enough evidence to bring this to trial or to gain a conviction. However, let me urge you not to give into this one. First, and most important, it would be a lie. Yes, a lie. You do not have enough evidence to take yourself to trial for rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault, so that is a no-brainer.
Second, this lie would please no one. It would consider the fiction that perhaps "something happened," but that you just cannot figure what it was. That would be dishonest, for it would be a smear of David Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty, who did none of the things of which they are accused.
Do you really think that the black voters in North Carolina would respect you for taking such a way out? You would be telling them that "something happened," but that you do not have the courage to take it to trial for fear of losing. No, I guarantee you that the black voters of North Carolina would respect you much more if you simply announced that you are ordering the charges to be dropped because the case was a fraud from the beginning.
Once you have disposed of the case, however, there are some other things that need to be done. First, and most important, you need to apologize to Reade, Collin, and David. This vicious and false prosecution cost their families millions of dollars. That is right. They had to spend millions of dollars in order to defend their sons against charges that were a lie from the beginning. This is not a "no harm, no foul" situation. The State of North Carolina has acted dishonorably throughout this affair, and you have the chance to set it right by standing in front of the television cameras and telling the truth.
Second, you need to throw Nifong to the wolves by announcing that your office has initiated a criminal investigation of his actions, and those of the Durham police. Don’t worry that you will offend anyone; indeed, Nifong has lost most of the political support that he had just a few months ago. Indeed, if you decide to make an example out of him, the voters are going to be more likely to support you than if you try to whitewash the whole thing.
For that matter, initiating a criminal investigation into what happened will go a long way toward letting people know that North Carolina “justice” means something other than prosecutors seeking wrongful convictions. And you should not stop at investigating Nifong and even the Durham police.
Yes, there is this matter of Judge Ronald Stephens, who operated hand-in-glove with Nifong (who used to work under Stephens when he was the Durham County DA) in those early weeks of the hoax. It was Stephens who gave the order to take DNA samples of all of the white Duke lacrosse players, despite the obvious unconstitutionality of such action. It was Stephens who released the Ryan McFayden email that had nothing to do with the case, but sent people into a frenzy. It was Stephens who permitted people to yell death threats to Seligmann at a May hearing, refusing to remove those people from his courtroom. It was Stephens who set bond for the players at a ridiculous $400,000. And it was Stephens who permitted Nifong to smirk, laugh openly, and treat Seligmann and his attorneys with open contempt during that hearing, despite the fact that officers of the court are supposed to act with some dignity and decorum.
What did Stephens know and when did he know it? Perhaps some investigators from your office should try to find out. What better way to tell the world that you intend to clean up Nifong’s mess than by investigating a judge whose actions gave life to a bogus case?
I can guarantee you that if you publicly apologize to the players and their families, you will earn more respect (and more future votes) than if you try to find some way to continue the smear even while dropping charges. Come clean and urge others to do likewise.
Yes, an admission that the state acted dishonorably, coupled with an apology, will open North Carolina to lawsuits. Yet, those lawsuits are going to come anyway, and if you try to continue the fiction that perhaps "something happened," I can assure you that "something" will happen to you when the players’ attorneys start the discovery process in the upcoming lawsuits. You will be exposed, and, worse, you will look like a dishonest politician. (Yes, I know that "dishonest politician" is a redundant term, but I am trying to help you improve your image.)
When you took over this case, you promised that it would be thorough and accurate. From what I have heard, the case was in disarray, and it was clear that Nifong had an even weaker body of evidence than what people believed. (Well, some people, anyway. Many of us never believed that Nifong had any information with which to begin, other than evidence that the charges were a lie.)
You have had nearly three months, and I hear that the basic legwork is over. All that is left for you to do is to face the cameras and face the music. This will be your moment. You have a choice: you can lie, or you can tell the truth. I will urge you in no uncertain terms: tell the truth. You will not regret it.
April 4, 2007