To the end, the account continues to change

In December, Mike Nifong's investigator talks with Crystal Gail Mangum. New and conflicting information creates more problems for the prosecution

Staff WriterApril 18, 2007 

Mike Nifong awaits a hearing before the N.C. State Bar in Raleigh on Jan. 24.

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY TED RICHARDSON

On Dec. 21, Mike Nifong's chief investigator, Linwood Wilson, went to an undisclosed location and met with Crystal Gail Mangum. According to Nifong's files, this was the first time the District Attorney's Office talked with Mangum about the case.

This was the most important interview of Wilson's career. With a national spotlight focused on his boss, he sat down with the accuser in perhaps the most publicized criminal case in North Carolina history.

Wilson's interview came after a week during which Nifong slammed into serious problems with the case -- and with his law license.

A week earlier, Nifong's DNA expert testified he and Nifong agreed not to report DNA results favorable to the lacrosse players. And on Dec. 20, Nifong received a letter from the N.C. State Bar, announcing a new grievance had been filed accusing him of withholding the same DNA evidence.

Wilson was an unlikely emissary. He had spent a few years on the Durham police force in the 1970s, and he toiled most of the next 20 years as a private investigator. Wilson racked up a half-dozen complaints from clients and left the field after a state reprimand.

Hired in December 2005 as a coordinator for pursuing worthless check charges at a $23,453 annual salary, Wilson started working on the lacrosse case in May. Nifong later promoted him to chief investigator and gave him a 66 percent raise, to $39,000.

One of Wilson's chief tasks was to confront witnesses who undercut the prosecutor's case. According to Nifong's files, Wilson met with the owner and employees of the Platinum Club in Hillsborough, where Mangum danced. He dug up an old misdemeanor warrant on Moezeldin Elmostafa, a taxi driver who backed Reade Seligmann's alibi, and told Durham police to arrest him.

In October, Wilson went to see defense lawyer Bill Thomas, looking for the video showing Mangum dancing vigorously on a stripper's pole at the Platinum Club on March 25. Her appearance on tape hurt the case, because she had said she was injured at the March 13 party, and Nifong said she was too traumatized to talk April 11.

Thomas accused Wilson of avoiding the truth: Why hadn't they pressed Mangum, Nifong's chief witness, on why she has told so many conflicting stories?

"He swelled up and pushed out his chest and said, 'Well, she hasn't been cross-examined by me yet!' " Thomas recalled.

Wilson got his chance Dec. 21.

According to all available documents, Wilson did nothing to get at the truth.

The former private eye did not probe Mangum's prior statements. He did nothing to sort out the numerous contradictions, including which of the players she had earlier identified as using the names Adam, Brett and Matt. Why were there no injuries in such a violent attack? Were condoms used? Was Kim Roberts, the second dancer, a fellow victim or a co-conspirator?

Instead, Wilson emerged with a story rich with new or previously unknown details that were, at first glance, favorable to the prosecution: The rape was over by midnight, not about 12:40 a.m. One of the defendants, Dave Evans, used three fake names (Dan, Adam and Brett); Reade Seligmann used two (Adam and Matt). She couldn't remember whether Collin Finnerty used one. She didn't know whether penises were used to rape her. Roberts had stood at the open bathroom door as Mangum's attackers wiped her off with a towel.

Help and hindrance

The new account seemed to patch publicized holes in the case; putting the assault before midnight could undercut Seligmann's formidable digital alibi, which included bank surveillance photos.

But it created new contradictions when compared with independent evidence, such as cell phone records: If Wilson's report was accurate, Mangum would have been on the phone with her escort agency and her father as the two women were dancing in the living room of the lacrosse house. Seligmann would have been on the phone with his girlfriend during the assault.

It wasn't just the content of the interview that was unusual. Police generally interview in pairs. This provides a witness if a dispute arises over what was said.

Wilson went without a colleague or tape recorder.

Wilson went alone to interview a rape complainant who had screamed when left alone with a man at Duke Hospital. Durham police guidelines suggest bringing a female rape counselor to follow-up interviews.

Wilson also created another problem for Nifong's case: He showed Mangum the lineup photographs from April 4, when she identified Evans, Seligmann, Finnerty and one other player as her assailants. That identification process violated Durham police guidelines because it showed pictures only of lacrosse players -- "a multiple choice test with no wrong answers," defense lawyers said.

Wilson did not mention the photographs in his report of the Dec. 21 interview; Nifong noted them in passing in a Jan. 8 letter to a defense lawyer. By showing Mangum the photos again, Wilson was open to charges that he had coached a witness and reinforced choices she made April 4. Since Wilson didn't make notes about showing the photos, it is unknown whether she identified the men charged, or different players.

As an investigator intimate with the case, Wilson should not have shown the photographs to Mangum; city and state guidelines say identification procedures should be conducted by officers unfamiliar with the case.

Nifong and Wilson apparently didn't tell Durham police about the interview beforehand. The next day, Nifong called Benjamin Himan, the Police Department's lead investigator on the case, and told him about the interview. Nifong informed Himan he was dropping the rape charges because Mangum was no longer 100 percent certain a penis had been put in her vagina.

This was an extraordinary decision. The indictments were based on grand jury testimony by Durham police officers, yet Nifong chose to dismiss the rape charge without consulting the police or asking them how her latest statement affected everything else she had told police.

After the phone call, Himan informed his boss and tried reaching Wilson, who had left on vacation. Himan discussed the interview with Wilson 11 days later, on Jan. 2.

"It was discussed that Inv. Wilson, myself and possibly Sgt. [Mark] Gottlieb should sit down and re-interview the victim regarding the information she had told Inv. Wilson," Himan noted.

They never did.

'Read her records'

The following week, Bill Cotter visited Nifong to discuss Mangum's history. A defense lawyer for Finnerty, Cotter had known Nifong for more than 20 years and was on good speaking terms with the prosecutor.

Cotter had heard Nifong was going to meet with Mangum, and he carried some of her records, which a judge had placed under seal. Unsealed records from UNC Healthcare in Nifong's files show she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was taking Depakote and Seroquel, two anti-psychotic drugs.

"I encouraged him to read her records," Cotter said. "I wanted him to know the person he was betting his career on, the person he had staked this case on. I wanted him to ask her the hard questions, to cross-examine her."

Nifong told Cotter he hadn't read any of the records yet; Cotter urged him to read them before meeting Mangum, thinking the prosecutor would understand why the defense didn't think Mangum was credible.

On Jan. 10, Wilson and Himan met with Nifong's other critical witness in the case: Tara Levicy, the Duke Hospital nurse who helped examine Mangum in the Duke emergency room the morning after the lacrosse party. Levicy had received special training to become a sexual assault nurse examiner to collect evidence in sexual assault cases. She would have been Nifong's chief witness in corroborating Mangum's claim that a rape had occurred.

In March 2006, Levicy told police she found evidence "consistent with a sexual assault."

The Jan. 10 interview focused on the absence of the players' DNA in the rape kit. Levicy had written in her March 14 report -- shortly after the party -- that no condoms were used. On Jan. 10, she hedged, according to Wilson's report: "Ms. Levicy stated she asked if condoms were used and Ms. Mangum said 'no' but wasn't really sure. Ms. Levicy stated that it was her opinion as a [sexual assault nurse examiner] that 'victims can never be sure if condoms are used because if they can't see them how would they know for sure. You can't feel them so you have to realize there is always a possibility that a condom could have been used.' "

Even though forensic nurses make medical observations and not legal judgments, Levicy also put forward a second theory: "I wasn't surprised when I heard no DNA was found because rape is not about passion or ejaculation but about power."

Second thoughts

A few days later, Levicy called Wilson with second thoughts. She wanted to clarify her statement about rape and power. "Ms. Levicy stated that there are numerous reason [sic] why semen is not found in a victim and include: 1) condoms were used; 2) No ejaculation; 3) It didn't happen."

The lacrosse case had been marked by the number of people Nifong didn't interview. He didn't discuss the case with defense lawyers. His office didn't interview Mangum until Dec. 21; Nifong said he first spoke with her about the case Jan. 11, a day before he recused himself because of the State Bar's charges.

Another key witness was never interviewed by Nifong, Wilson or the Durham police.

On the morning of March 14, Levicy had asked Dr. Julie Manly to perform the pelvic examination on Mangum. Manly had performed numerous rape exams.

Mangum was different in several ways. Most rape victims are withdrawn and quiet but cooperative. Mangum, on the other hand, called attention to herself by screaming; Manly had never seen that behavior before, she told defense lawyer Doug Kingsbery in October.

Manly made one notation on the rape kit report: "diffuse edema of the vaginal walls." It was the only medical evidence in Nifong's files that might support Mangum's version of what occurred at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd.

In an interview with Kingsbery, Manly said she did not recall seeing that kind of swelling in any of her previous sexual assault exams. Manly had seen similar swelling in others of the hundreds of routine pelvic exams she had performed, but there were other reasons for it.

During the exam of Mangum, Manly had seen discharge she assumed could be semen. After learning the rape kit turned up none, Manly came up with another possibility:

Mangum had the whitish discharge and vaginal swelling common to a yeast infection.

It's a routine and unremarkable diagnosis -- one that could have been discovered much earlier in Mike Nifong's investigation. But the "rogue prosecutor" described last week by Attorney General Roy Cooper was looking only to prove the stories of Crystal Gail Mangum.

Two days after Cooper declared Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann innocent, Nifong appeared at a hearing before the State Bar, which soon could take his law license. As he left, he was surrounded by reporters and photographers, much like last spring.

This time, he wasn't talking.

Staff writer Joseph Neff can be reached at 829-4516 or joseph.neff@newsobserver.com.

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