Commentary

Saunders: Good luck trying to keep Crystal Mangum’s past from affecting her new trial

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2013 

When Crystal Mangum’s murder trial starts Tuesday, her attorneys don’t want prospective jurors to hear any mention of the Duke University lacrosse scandal with which Mangum’s name is forever linked. They also want no mention made of the time she allegedly threatened to kill a boyfriend and tried to set his clothes on fire – while the cops were already in the house.

Good luck with that.

Assistant Durham County District Attorney Charlene Coggins-Franks, in an N&O story last week, said Mangum “came running down the hallway screaming, ‘I’m going to stab you! I’m going to kill you!’ She practically bulldozed an officer and had to be taken down.”

Mangum is now being tried for murder in the death of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, in April 2011. It’s unlikely that anyone who can read or who has a television set doesn’t already know more than they want to of the story of the woman who gained fame, then sympathy, then infamy, for falsely accusing three lacrosse players from Duke of raping her in 2006.

Like a bad penny

They were ultimately exonerated, and her name has been synonymous with crying “wolf!” ever since. Like a bad penny, her name keeps coming back, bringing with it the memory of those days when the nation’s eyes were focused on Durham for none of the wonderful things about the city – only one bad thing.

Potential jurors will certainly be asked if they’re familiar with the case. Any of them who claims he or she has never heard of it is either lying or has been living in a cave without Internet access in Kathmandu for the past five years.

Either way, what kind of juror could they possibly make?

Even if Mangum’s legal mouthpieces succeed in getting mention of the lacrosse case stricken from her current trial, they won’t be able to strike it from jurors’ memories.

Far more likely, though, to get called into question is the fitness of the coroner who performed the autopsy on Daye. Mangum’s supporters have long claimed that Daye died from errors in his diagnosis and treatment at Duke Hospital, not from the stab wound.

The fired coroner

Dr. Clay Nichols, who performed the autopsy and ruled that Daye suffered a perforated kidney and lung, among other things, was fired last week as deputy medical examiner. The Orange County District Attorney is trying to decide whether to file charges against Nichols for possibly mishandling evidence in a different 2011 homicide.

That could, in legal parlance, “blow the dude out of the water” as a credible prosecution witness in Mangum’s case or any homicide cases for which he performed autopsies and might testify.

I couldn’t reach Attorney General Roy Cooper or Nichols late Friday, and Nichols has made no public comment since he was fired. In an interview last year, though, he fired back at Mangum supporters who claim he misdiagnosed the cause of Daye’s death.

“He was stabbed. He was treated, and as a direct result of his stab wound he died,” Nichols said then.

Sidney Harr, member of the ad hoc Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong – the former Durham County D.A. who, too, was done in by his actions in the lacrosse scandal – told me last week that he thinks there’s no doubt Nichols’ “autopsy report is fraudulent. It is blatantly false. There are many discrepancies between the autopsy report and the operative report” that cast doubt on why Daye, 46, died 10 days after being stabbed.

Whether Daye, who worked for Scott Painting & Decorating Co., died from the stab wounds or because the hospital didn’t treat the stab wounds correctly is possibly significant for legal reasons, but not moral ones. That could mean the difference between murder and manslaughter, between life in the joint and a shorter sentence if convicted.

One fact is indisputable, though: Had Mangum not stabbed him, he’d still be alive. It would be a shame if malfeasance on the part of Nichols prevents Daye’s family – or Mangum – from receiving justice.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service