My Final Open Letter to Michael Byron Nifong


As I survey the human wreckage of this case and try to comprehend the utter damage that you did to so many people — including yourself — I hardly know where to begin. I have been writing on this subject almost since the beginning, and I will tell you that I received a lot of hate mail in those early days when I publicly declared you were not telling the truth. Let me further say that there was no event — nothing — that transpired that even tempted me to change my mind. I knew that what you were doing was wrong, even as the media, other prosecutors, and the talking heads on television trumpeted your every word as though it were the Oracle of the Gods from Mount Olympus.

Thus, as I address you for a final time, let me tell you that I am not writing as a Johnny-come-lately in this case. I saw through it from the beginning, and I saw through you and what you were doing.

But let me also say that I do not take a single whit of pleasure in what I am writing. I have shed tears for you and your family just as I have shed them for the others. You are about to embark on a very, very painful journey, one that did not end yesterday, but only began.

The final outcome of the North Carolina State Bar’s action against you was unprecedented, and I suspect you never thought such a thing could happen to you. As I saw you leaving the courthouse following your bar trial yesterday, accompanied by your wife, I saw an utterly-humiliated man, something that no one could have pictured a year ago, and it is very hard to see someone being so humiliated in such a public way.

Do you remember how you showed confidence and, yes, bravado in the various hearings as you sparred with attorneys, laughed out loud when the late Kirk Osborn requested to Judge Ronald Stephens — your close ally — that Reade Seligmann’s bond be reduced from $400,000 to $100,000? You controlled the process then, and I suspect that you believed you were untouchable.

As I return to the experience of humiliation, let me also say that you did your best to humiliate three innocent young men. First, you demanded that they be arrested while in class, something that even Judge Stephens could not agree with doing. You wanted maximum news coverage and for those young men to be utterly humiliated in front of their classmates, as police clipped handcuffs on them and led them to be thrown into the back of police cars.

Do you remember the threats made against Reade Seligmann’s life on that horrible day when he appeared in Stephen’s Durham County courtroom? Do you remember that Reade found out on his mother’s birthday he was to be indicted? Do you remember that he had his picture on the cover of Newsweek as an accused rapist? That, Mr. Nifong, is humiliation, and he and his family suffered greatly because you wanted to gain an extra $15 grand a year on your pension.

As difficult as this was, I doubt that Newsweek will place your mug on its cover. First, you are not important enough to them; second, Newsweek is interested in convincing its readers that the leftist paradigms of sex and race really are true, and this case destroys that dishonest worldview, and the editors and writers there really do not like to be reminded that they are just as dishonest as you have been. Third, Newsweek, like everyone else, does not like to be caught on the losing side, and this whole affair has been a major defeat for them. They fell for a hoax they wanted to be true, just as they had fallen for the Tawana Brawley hoax 20 years ago.

The Book of Proverbs says that he who "sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind," and that is what we will see now. The process you went through last week is only the beginning, not the end. Yes, disbarment means your legal career is over, over, and the life that you had planned for yourself and your family also is over. There will be no book deals, and your ability to earn even a decent living has been severely impaired.

Furthermore, this process you began has grown into the monster that has swallowed you and your career, and that means that there will be lawsuits and surely criminal charges in the wake of this hearing. Even if all of the families decided today not to file suit against you, your troubles would not be over. As an attorney for Reade Seligmann, Jim Cooney, has stated, "We are not through yet with Mr. Nifong."

Yes, you can look for criminal investigators to come after you, as well as some of your confederates and allies, such as your investigator Linwood Wilson, and some members of the Durham Police Department. It has been ugly, and it will even become uglier.

I don’t know how or when this affair will end for you, but I think that when Rae Evans told "60 Minutes" that you will pay "every day for the rest of your life," she was not kidding. It is not that Mrs. Evans will be the one hounding you — she will get on with her life, trust me — but rather that the process you so dishonestly began in March 2006 will be what follows you.

So, I believe you will lose much of your wealth due to lawsuits and attorneys’ fees, and you are likely to do a stretch in prison, most likely federal prison. I do not say this with glee — indeed, I do not — but I think that is the future that awaits you, and it is grim.

Let me now say that your life does not have to be one in which you are remembered by what has transpired in the Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case. Yes, most people will remember you as such, but let me introduce you to someone who came into the public eye in a notorious fashion, but now has turned around his own life in a spectacular way.

In 1968, the most notorious terrorist for the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi was a young man named Thomas A. Tarrants III. One night that year, while attempting to bomb the home of a rabbi living in Meridian, Mississippi, he was ambushed and chased by police. Tarrants’ partner, a young female schoolteacher, was killed in the shootout and Tarrants himself was shot numerous times and was near death.

However, he recovered and went to prison in that state. After almost being killed in a spectacular prison break, he was put in solitary confinement and became converted to Christianity. After his release from prison, he ultimately went to seminary, became a campus minister and later the pastor of a racially-mixed church in Washington, D.C. Today, he is president of the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington and has earned a doctorate from Fuller Seminary.

Granted, this is one of those stories of unbelievable change in a human being, although I would bet that there are people today who still want to believe that Tarrants is faking everything — just as you have insisted that "something must have happened" at that party, even though we already know the facts, and they are not what you claim. I give you this example, however, because there really can be redemption, even for people who do terrible things to others.

Right now, I doubt your heart really is right for change. Yes, you have been to the woodshed and, yes, you have been utterly humiliated. But we cannot forget that it was your goal to utterly humiliate those three young men who had done nothing to deserve the hatred and force of the law that descended upon their heads.

You, on the other hand, brought on the process that ultimately stripped you of your law license and your dignity. But I want to hold out to you that even in this dark time, you can change, and you can reclaim something of your life. No, you cannot reclaim your income, and there very well may be a time in the near future when you cannot even reclaim your own freedom, as a perp walk may be something you are going to experience. However, in time you can begin that road to really changing what you are and what you became this past year.

Because the North Carolina State Bar had the courage to stop you even while the original case against the three young men was proceeding — something that was unprecedented and was passed with only one vote to spare — you were not able to successfully prosecute these men into prison. I tell you that you ought to be on your knees thanking God and thanking the NC Bar that they prevented you from carrying out this loathsome act. If you think the consequences for you are severe now, just think what they would have been had you carried this fraud of a case to trial.

You were right when you declared on the stand that this case defines who you are. Acts of violence and hatred once characterized the life of Thomas A. Tarrants III, but that no longer is the case. Likewise, the hijacking of the apparatus of the law and falsely accusing people of crimes that never occurred currently define you, but that does not have to be the case.

I do hope that there will come a time when you come to understand what has happened, and why you and your family have gone through this truly awful experience. I say this because I am not sure you truly understand. Right now, you see yourself as a faithful public servant who was trying to bring justice for a poor, black woman who was beaten and raped, and somehow these wealthy, white families were able to keep you from carrying out the process of justice. You simply cannot see clearly that nothing happened except lies, and you used your powers of office to promote an even bigger lie than what Crystal Mangum told the police that morning of March 14, 2006.

Yes, you tell yourself that perhaps you were "overzealous," but well-meaning. That is something I can tell you is not acceptable, not to the bar, not to the families you have wronged, and not even to yourself. Only when you come to understand the enormity of what you did and why — why — it was so wrong can you begin that road to reclaiming your life.