Let's let a court decide

Staff WriterJanuary 12, 2007 

Despite calls, ranging from reasoned to hysterically shrill, that he drop charges against three Duke lacrosse players accused of kidnapping and assaulting a Durham woman, District Attorney Mike Nifong refuses to wave the white flag.

That doesn't mean he won't wave the white towel.

If and when the trial in this case begins -- a betting man would give odds that it won't -- a key piece of evidence will be a white towel that the accuser says the suspects used to wipe their DNA from her body.

Ah, so that explains the lack of DNA.

What is troubling about this piece of evidence is that the woman didn't mention it until nine months after her initial interview with police -- and after police listed it as evidence.

Also troubling about the towel, found by investigators in the bedroom of one of the defendants, is that it appears to possess magical properties: The accuser said the defendants used it to wipe their DNA from her body -- but it apparently left DNA of other, unidentified men.

Oy. Criminal cases should be tried in court, not in the media. In most cases, we say defendants deserve their day in court. But with the leaks of evidence, an aggressive defense strategy that has helped swing public sentiment 180 degrees, and questionable behavior by Nifong, it is the accuser whose day in court must be championed.

The drip, drip, drip of evidence coming from the defense, which appears to undermine the prosecution's case and cast doubt on the accuser's story, does make one question her truthfulness. The towel and also a newly revised -- and, for the prosecution, convenient -- timeline that fills holes left by the accuser's initial account make it hard for anyone who initially believed her to remain convinced.

That is why we have court systems. Accusers, even when they're strippers with possibly faulty memories, have a right to be heard -- once prosecutors ensure that the case deserves to be heard.

So let it be heard. If the accuser is shown to be a liar, her next appearance in court should be as a defendant charged with making false statements to police officers and damaging the lacrosse players' lives.

Were the consequences not so dire, the chorus calling for Nifong's head would be amusing. People whose knowledge of the law probably derives from watching a "Law & Order" marathon now feel sufficiently informed to suggest -- nay, scream -- that he has intentionally broken the law by trying these obviously innocent young men.

The Wall Street Journal weighed in this week, scolding Nifong on its op-ed page for proceeding with the case.

Funny, but I didn't see anyone there criticizing North Carolina DAs whose corner-cutting got wrongful murder convictions on Alan Gell and Darryl Hunt that landed them on death row and in prison for life, respectively.

In the Duke case, there was an initial rush to judgment to convict the lacrosse players without a trial. Now the rush is on to convict the accuser and the prosecutor.

If she is lying, she should do some time. If Nifong knowingly broke the rules, he should be disbarred.

That's why we have courts.

Want to tell Barry what you think? Call him at 836-2811 or send e-mail to him at

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