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North Carolina District Attorney Race Draws Attention Amid Duke Lacrosse Probe

Mike Nifong has spent more than a month leading the rape investigation involving Duke University men's lacrosse team while also running an election campaign to keep his job.

The district attorney will soon find out what voters think of his handling of the headline-grabbing case.

Nifong faces two challengers in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Durham, where the allegations against team members have likely turned what might have been a low-key election into a referendum on the performance of the incumbent.

The election comes one day after a defense attorney for a player charged in the case filed a motion to remove Nifong from the case, accusing him of using the investigation for political gain.

"They don't want to go up against me," Nifong said when asked outside court Monday about the defense request for his removal. He has denied any political motivation behind his investigation.

The winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary vote among Nifong, Freda Black and Keith Bishop will likely be the next district attorney since no Republicans are running. If no candidate wins at least 40 percent of the vote, the top two will advance to a May 30 runoff.

Even if Nifong loses, he will remain in office until January, allowing him to keep pursuing his case against two indicted players. He has said he does not intend to step down early if he loses.

Also Monday, a Duke University committee recommended that the school's lacrosse team resume play next season, but said the team needed strict monitoring because of a history of problems tied to alcohol.

Duke canceled the remainder of the season for the highly ranked team last month following allegations that a black woman was raped and beaten by three white men at a team party where she had been hired to strip.

A grand jury has indicted two players on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual assault. Nifong has said he hopes to charge a third person.

The report released Monday night did not consider the rape allegations, but instead focused on the behavior of the team during the past five years.

It found that while the team performed well academically and athletically, "a large number of the members of the team have been socially irresponsible when under the influence of alcohol."

A third of current team members have been cited in recent years for offenses ranging from underage drinking to public urination.

"We looked closely but found no compelling evidence to support claims that these players are racist or have a record of sexual violence," said Duke law professor James E. Coleman Jr., who led the committee.

In a statement released with the report, Duke President Richard Brodhead did not offer an opinion on the panel's recommendation, saying only that the report will "give us useful information as we consider the future of men's lacrosse at Duke in the weeks ahead."