DURHAM, N.C. — The prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse rape case has heard the criticism from experts and armchair lawyers, and said Monday he is comfortable with nearly all the decisions he has made and confident about taking the case to trial.
“I think that I have a responsibility to prosecute this case,” District Attorney Mike Nifong said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think that really nothing about my view of the case and my view of how the case ultimately needs to be handled has been affected by any of the things that have occurred.”
Nifong, running for election against two challengers who have attacked his handling of the case, obtained an indictment against three athletes accused of raping a stripper at a team party in March. They have strongly declared their innocence.
In the early days of the case, Nifong granted numerous newspaper and TV interviews, at one point calling the players “hooligans” and declaring that DNA would identify the guilty. DNA failed to connect the players to the accuser.
Nifong said Monday that granting so many interviews was his only regret.
“You do the best you can based on what you have,” he said. “You can always second-guess an investigation.”
Nifong’s comments angered defense attorney Joseph Cheshire, who represents one of the players who has been charged, David Evans. Cheshire said Nifong’s belief he “wouldn’t look back and do any of that differently is astounding.”
“I don’t think that you could find any person educated in the law who would not second-guess many things that Mr. Nifong has done in this case,” he said.
The latest questions about Nifong’s handling of the case came last week, after he said he and his staff have yet to interview the accuser about the facts of the case, leaving that work to police. He said Monday his responsibility is to direct the investigation, not conduct it.
Experts differed on the wisdom of Nifong’s decision.
Former Denver prosecutor Norm Early, who now works with the National District Attorneys Association, said: “It’s not standard to talk to the victim in every case. The police department generally has a conversation with the victim and the law enforcement relays that information to the district attorney.”
But for a case generating as much public scrutiny with such strong claims of innocence from the defense, it makes sense to have a prosecutor involved, said Yale University law professor Ronald Sullivan Jr.
“Those claims of factual innocence alone should trigger some duty in the prosecutor’s office to evaluate the merits of this case,” he said.
Nifong declined to comment on an interview, aired by ABC on Monday, with Kim Roberts, a second stripper at the party. Roberts said the accuser was clearly impaired and “talking crazy” after they left the party and drove to a grocery store.
Roberts said she was unable to get the accuser to leave her car, and pushed on the woman’s arm and leg to try to force her out. Roberts quoted the accuser as saying: “Go ahead, go ahead. Put marks on me. Go ahead. That’s what I want. Go ahead.”
“And it chilled me to the bone,” Roberts said.
Roberts said she is worried such detail will lead people to make assumptions about what happened at the party.
“It’s going to solidify their opinions so much, that they’re not going to want to hear the other aspects of the case, which I think are just as important,” she said. “It’s going to make people not listen to any other part of the story.”