Published June 14, 2007
RALEIGH, N.C. – Although he asked a private laboratory to test DNA in the Duke lacrosse rape investigation, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong never asked for the final report on his work, the lab's director testified.
The results would later show that none of the DNA found in or on the body of a stripper belonged to the players she accused of raping her at a March 2006 off-campus party, and that genetic material from several males not on the lacrosse team was found on her underwear and body. But Dr. Brian Meehan, director of DNA Security Inc., said Wednesday he and Nifong did not conspire to keep the results from defense attorneys.
"We did not withhold anything," he testified.
The North Carolina State Bar has charged Nifong, the Durham County district attorney, with violating rules of professional conduct in his handling of the case. One of the charges cited by the bar said Nifong kept from the defense details of the DNA results.
If convicted by the disciplinary committee, Nifong could be stripped of his license to practice law in the state.
Despite the lack of DNA evidence tying them to the case, Nifong won indictments against former players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans. The three were later cleared by state prosecutors, who called them "innocent" victims of a rogue prosecutor's "tragic rush to accuse."
Testimony is scheduled to resume Thursday with Brad Bannon, one of Evans' attorneys. On Wednesday, Bannon called Nifong's early comments to reporters about the case "outrageous." He also detailed how Nifong told Joseph Cheshire — Evans' other attorney — through an assistant that he wouldn't meet with him early on unless Evans was prepared to be charged.
Earlier Wednesday, Meehan said an initial DNA testing report he provided to Nifong was never intended to be all-inclusive, and that Nifong never asked for a final and complete report on his lab's findings.
"We don't typically force-feed reports to clients," Meehan said. "When he was ready for a final report, we thought he would let us know."
Yet under questioning, Meehan said he would have wanted to know those details had he been a juror.
When Nifong released the initial report to defense attorneys in May 2006, they quickly trumpeted the news that Meehan's lab had been unable to find a conclusive match between the accuser and any lacrosse players.
But it wasn't until much later that the defense received the background details of the test results, which indicated there was genetic material from several males found in the accuser's underwear and body, but none from any member of the lacrosse team.
In December, Meehan said he didn't include that information in the report as part of an agreement with Nifong. Under cross-examination by Nifong's attorney, David Freedman, Meehan said he was concerned that releasing all the information would have violated the privacy of those tested.
But Meehan said he would have turned it over had Nifong asked for the information. He hinted that defense attorneys should have noticed a reference to the additional test information in the May report, though it didn't specifically state what was available.
State Bureau of Investigation agent Jennifer Leyn later testified that the agency's reports on DNA testing always contain complete information. Cheshire angrily insisted after the hearing that it was Nifong's responsibility to provide all the test results.
"It's an absurdity," he said. "(Meehan) works for the prosecutor. He's the prosecutor's employee under the attorney work-product doctrine. You don't mess with another lawyer's experts. You call the lawyer."
Cheshire said defense attorneys would never have learned about the detailed test results if they hadn't asked a judge to order Nifong to turn them over.
"That's the key," Cheshire said. "There'd have never been a 'final report.' That's the whole problem here."