DURHAM, N.C. – The district attorney prosecuting three Duke lacrosse players charged with rape acknowledged Friday that he erred by openly discussing some aspects of the investigation, but he urged voters not to judge him by one case alone.
"My handling of the media coverage of this case has occasioned substantial criticism, some of which is undoubtedly justified," District Attorney Mike Nifong said during a half-hour news conference.
"I both underestimated the level of media attention this case would draw and misjudged the effect that my words would have. That having been said, this case remains a Durham problem and it demands a Durham solution," he said.
Nifong beat two challengers in May's Democratic primary, and he has no GOP challenger. But a petition drive that drew well over the required 6,303 signatures put another Democrat's name on the November ballot, Durham lawyer Lewis Cheek.
Cheek, who said he was approached by people dissatisfied with Nifong's handling of the rape investigation, sees his presence on the ballot essentially as a way for voters to reject Nifong. He said Thursday that he wouldn't serve if elected, meaning Gov. Mike Easley would have to appoint a new district attorney if Cheek won.
Nifong addressed that effort Friday.
"I am struck by the irony that this group of citizens wants to use this procedure to make an end run around the electorate now," Nifong said. "I believe that Durham's district attorney should be selected by the voters of Durham, not by the governor."
Nifong came forward early in the investigation to say he believed the woman who said three Duke lacrosse players had raped her during a team party on March 13. At one point he labeled some players "hooligans" and predicted DNA test results would identify the guilty.
Defense lawyers said the tests didn't conclusively link any of the players to the accuser and the three Duke lacrosse player charged are innocent.
Nifong declined to answer questions about the case Friday.
"Everybody wants to talk about one case," Nifong said. "And I'm here today to tell you the district attorney's office is not about one case. It's just not."