Published June 13, 2007
RALEIGH, N.C. – A police detective who investigated rape allegations involving three Duke lacrosse players testified at an ethics hearing Wednesday that District Attorney Mike Nifong never asked him to withhold evidence and didn't coach him before his grand jury appearance.
The North Carolina State Bar has charged Nifong with several violations of the state's rules of professional conduct — all tied to his actions in the lacrosse case. If convicted by the disciplinary committee, he could be stripped of his license to practice law in the state.
During the hearing Wednesday, Durham police investigator Benjamin Himan was asked to recount the early days of the case, which started in March 2006 when a stripper told police she had been raped at lacrosse team party. Nifong won indictments against three players, who were later cleared by state prosecutors.
Himan said Nifong knew about the accuser's history of mental illness, and about a previous accusation of rape that didn't lead to an arrest, before he decided to seek indictments against Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans.
Seligmann was in the court Wednesday, joined by his parents and attorney Jim Cooney, who has said Himan's account on Tuesday was further proof that Nifong should have backed off the case.
Nifong's attorney, Dudley Witt, questioned Himan on Wednesday about his reservations about indicting Seligmann.
"(Nifong) said if you believe her in one part of the story, you have to believe her on the other part of the story," Himan testified. "You can't pick and choose."
On Tuesday, Himan said he was concerned that authorities didn't have enough evidence against Seligmann. He said that when he learned Nifong planned to seek an indictment, his reaction was sarcastic: "I think I made the response 'With what?"'
Himan testified that Nifong acknowledged privately that the accuser's story was filled with inconsistencies and the case would be hard to prove.
"We didn't have any DNA. We didn't have him at the party," Himan said of Seligmann. "It was a big concern to me to go for an indictment with not even knowing where he was — if he was even there."
In clearing the three athletes, state Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded they were "innocent" victims of a rogue prosecutor's "tragic rush to accuse."
Nifong's public pronouncements of confidence in the case — which included calling the players "hooligans" and saying he didn't need DNA evidence to win a conviction — formed the basis of the bar's initial ethics complaint, which accused Nifong of making misleading and inflammatory comments about the athletes.
One of Nifong's lawyers, David Freedman, has said that his client will testify that he regretted making such statements and that in the early days of the case evidence led Nifong to believe a crime had occurred.