This morning for the first time in his professional life, Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong will enter a North Carolina courtroom and sit at the defense table.
Nifong is facing charges of prosecutorial misconduct from the North Carolina State Bar for his handling of the infamous Duke rape case. If found guilty, the veteran prosecutor could be disbarred and consequently removed from his office as Durham County district attorney.
Nifong has acknowledged that he regrets some of the more inflammatory statements he made about the lacrosse players last spring to the local and national media — including calling the team members a "bunch of hooligans" — but maintains he did nothing intentionally unethical.
The charges he faces include withholding potentially exculpatory evidence, making inappropriate public comments about the case and lying to a judge and to state bar investigators.
Last spring, in the midst of a tight election campaign against a popular former prosecutor, Nifong secured indictments against Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, charging them with first degree forcible rape and kidnapping. A stripper hired to dance at an off-campus Duke lacrosse team party in March 2006 said she was held in a tiny frat house bathroom and beaten and raped repeatedly by three men at the party.
For many Americans, the dramatic, yearlong case with its seemingly bottomless supply of surprises, had by then become a national symbol of prosecutorial malice.
Over the course of the ensuing year, the case slowly unraveled as the woman changed her story repeatedly and as a seemingly airtight alibi for at least one of the players surfaced in the form of receipts, security camera video and cell phone records.
Early this year, under tremendous pressure, Nifong ceded the case to the North Carolina Attorney General's office, which reviewed it and determined in April that there was not enough evidence to maintain the charges. All charges were dropped.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said at the time that there was no rape or attack, that all three players were "innocent" and that Nifong had erred grievously in his "tragic rush to accuse."
The three men and their families are expected to attend the trial, and one if not all three are expected to testify. There will be cameras in the courtroom, according to a clerk at the North Carolina Court of Appeals, where the hearing will take place. Nifong is also expected to testify, and the hearing is predicted to last three to four days.
Nifong's attorney, David Freedman, said this week that Nifong had no plans to resign in the face of criticism.
"Public opinion is not going to weigh in on how the proceedings develop and will not weigh in on the ultimate decision by the bar," Freedman told The Associated Press. "Our purpose is not to sway public opinion but to present his case to the bar."