DURHAM, N.C. – The district attorney prosecuting two Duke University athletes on rape charges fought off two challengers in the Democratic primary Tuesday and vowed to continue pursuing the headline-grabbing case.
"The case continues to go forward," said Mike Nifong, who insisted the election had not become a referendum on his handling of the investigation into rape allegations involving the school's lacrosse team.
"There is no way to tell if it hurt or helped," Nifong said. "I really felt like I was by far the best candidate. ... I'm glad that the people of Durham agree with me."
In unofficial results, Nifong had 45 percent of the vote, with challenger Freda Black close behind with about 42 percent. There are no Republicans running in the general election, and Nifong needed only 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Some voters agreed with Nifong, saying it was unfair to judge the veteran prosecutor on just one case, even if it has drawn intense media scrutiny to Durham and Duke University, by far the largest employer in the county.
Nita Wiggins, a retired Durham city employee, said she voted for Nifong.
"I don't agree with some of the decisions he's made in the case, but I have to believe that he's doing what he feels is correct," Wiggins said. "I still wish he hadn't ... answered any questions (from the media) because it just kind of makes us look bad, and we're really not a racially divided town."
Other voters were critical of Nifong, who initially talked openly about the investigation and at one point labeled some players "hooligans" and boldly predicted DNA test results would identify the guilty athletes.
Defense attorneys said those tests failed to find a match between the accuser and any player tested.
"I don't think he did his job," said Antonia Weeks, a writer who has lived in Durham for 29 years. "I don't know who did what, and I'm not pretending to know, but I've seen a lot of cases handled in this community, and I've never seen one handled this way before."
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.
Nifong, who has been a prosecutor for nearly three decades, was appointed district attorney last year after his predecessor became a judge.
There is slight chance Nifong could face a challenger in November. Unaffiliated candidates have until June 30 to submit petitions signed by 4 percent of registered voters in Durham County, or about 6,300 people, to win a spot on the fall ballot. Write-in candidates must file petitions by Aug. 9.