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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Prosecutor needs to re-evaluate Duke case

"If she says, yes, it's them, or one or two of them, I have an obligation to put that to a jury."

So said Durham, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong, explaining his decision to go forward with the prosecution of a trio of Duke University lacrosse players, and revealing nothing but prosecutorial cobwebs under the national spotlight.

Prosecutors are historically, and unfairly, reluctant to prosecute sex crimes perpetrated against women. Witnesses to such crimes are usually in short supply, and emotional issues leave prosecutors guessing on what testimony they will hear when the victim gets to the stand.

Ignoring all other facts, Mr. Nifong's willingness to prosecute an alleged sex crime is praiseworthy.

Prosecutors are also historically, and unfairly, reluctant to prosecute wealthy defendants. Such defendants have the ability to out-lawyer the state, often embarrassing the prosecutor and leading to a tax-funded verdict of "not guilty."

So, again, good for Mr. Nifong. He's not afraid of failure. Standing alone, his willingness to prosecute white Duke University students based on testimony from a black female, the alleged victim, is laudable.

At some point, though, Mr. Nifong needs to look beyond general principles of jurisprudence and focus on the facts of his case. Those facts are bleak, and he helps neither the alleged victim nor the alleged perpetrators by pursuing the matter.

Mr. Nifong has cell-phone records suggesting one of the alleged offenders had left the scene before the rape supposedly took place. He has no DNA evidence. And the remaining thread upon which his case hangs, the victim's testimony, is less credible by the day. Once adamant she was raped, she is less certain after DNA tests suggest otherwise.

A prosecutor willing to pursue difficult sex-crime cases against affluent defendants deserves respect. A prosecutor willing to set aside his responsibilities to taxpayers, alleged offenders and an alleged victim — all to avoid the appearance of backing down — does not.

It is time Mr. Nifong re-evaluated his case. His misguided effort to perform in the spotlight is backfiring, and none of those involved will benefit from his performance.

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