DURHAM — Fallen prosecutor Mike Nifong, who spent the past 30 years accusing people of crimes, knows now what it is like to be the accused.
The former district attorney, stripped of his law license this month, faces Judge W. Osmond Smith III today on a criminal contempt charge that arose from his handling of the Duke lacrosse case. If found in contempt, Nifong could do jail time.
Some longtime court observers said they could not recall another case in which a judge filed contempt charges against a prosecutor.
"I've never heard of it," said Jim Drennan of the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"I can't think of anything like this," said Peg Dorer, director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys for the past 15 years.
Smith, the superior court judge assigned to the Duke lacrosse case, entered a strongly worded order against Nifong in late June.
Smith's accusation? That Nifong lied to him on Sept. 22, 2006.
On that day, defense attorneys pressed Nifong about a May 2006 DNA report prepared by Brian Meehan, director of a private DNA-testing lab in Burlington.
Nifong had hired the lab to run tests in the Duke lacrosse case.
Those tests revealed that DNA from men not on the lacrosse team had been found on the body and clothing of the woman who accused team members of raping her. Those results, which would have been beneficial to the defense team, were not included in the May report.
Three lacrosse players had been charged with raping Crystal Gail Mangum, an escort service dancer hired to perform at a team party in March 2006. The three -- Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann -- were declared innocent of all charges in April.
Nifong's zeal to prosecute the case cost him his license and his career. But his fight continues. Now he faces questions from Smith about responses he gave last September during a hearing on the lacrosse case.
Smith asked Nifong whether the May 2006 DNA report given to defense lawyers was complete: "So his [Meehan's] report encompasses it all?"
Nifong answered haltingly: "His report encompasses ever -- because we didn't -- they apparently think that everybody I speak to about, I talk about the facts of the case. And that's just, that would be counterproductive. It did not happen here."
The judge pressed for an answer: "So you represent there are no other statements from Dr. Meehan?"
Nifong responded, "No other statements. No other statements made to me."
Meehan has since testified that he briefed Nifong several times that tests found DNA from unidentified men on Mangum's body and underwear. Nifong has confirmed Meehan's account in interviews and sworn testimony.
Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.