DURHAM, N.C. – Former Durham County prosecutor Mike Nifong walked out of jail Saturday morning after completing a 24-hour contempt sentence imposed by a judge for lying to the court about critical DNA evidence in the Duke lacrosse rape case.
Nifong left the county jail shortly after 9 a.m., where he was greeted with cheers and applause by a crowd of about 20 supporters waiting for him in the lobby. As they did Friday when Nifong reported to jail, they surrounded the disgraced and disbarred prosecutor as he moved through a crowd of reporters to a waiting car.
"Other than that, I just want to go home and spend some time with my family," he said, refusing to speak with reporters who peppered him with questions.
The veteran prosecutor, who spent his entire career as an attorney in the Durham County district attorney's office, won indictments last year against three Duke lacrosse players, charging them with raping a woman hired to strip at a March 2006 team party.
The players -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans -- were declared innocent earlier this year by state prosecutors, who concluded no crime could have occurred. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said the students were victims of Nifong's "tragic rush to accuse."
Nifong was later disbarred for more than two dozen violations of the state's rules of professional conduct, including withholding exculpatory DNA evidence and making numerous inflammatory comments about the lacrosse players to the media. He resigned as district attorney in July.
Last week, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III found that Nifong "willfully made false statements" to the court in September when he insisted he had given defense attorneys all results from a DNA test that helped exonerate the players.
The test had found DNA of multiple men, none of whom were lacrosse players, on the accuser. Nifong insisted during his contempt trial that he didn't intentionally lie about the evidence, but acknowledged giving defense attorneys a report on the testing that was incomplete. A defense attorney eventually deciphered the omitted information amid nearly 2,000 pages of test data.
The three players are seeking a $30 million settlement from the city of Durham and reforms in the legal process, two people close to the case told The Associated Press on Friday. If the terms aren't met, they will sue early next month, the sources said on condition of anonymity because the proposed settlement wasn't complete.
Both sources stressed to the AP that the money must be accompanied by legal reforms, with one saying the roughly $10 million for each family would be paid out over five years.
The crowd waiting for Nifong was smaller than Friday morning, when he reported to start his sentence, and many of the faces of his supporters were the same. As the group led Nifong outside, several voices rose from the crowd in a show of support for the circling TV cameras.
"God is so good to you, Mike," one woman said. "He loves you so much."
The only heckles Saturday came from those passing by, one of whom shouted, "They're hiring at McDonald's, Mike. Get you a job. Thanks for costing us millions of dollars."
But Nifong also received calls of encouragement from those who watched his release from across the street. "They had no business locking that man up," yelled Gloria Parker, a resident of Durham for 10 years, as Nifong got in the back seat of a car driven by one of his attorneys.
"I know what he did. He did what he thought was right, and I support him 100 percent and I don't care in Durham who knows," Parker said. "I respect him to the fullest."