With tears streaming down his face, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong announced he will resign his post in light of his disastrous prosecution of three Duke students for a gang rape that the state attorney general says never happened.
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"It is not fair for the people in my community to be represented by someone who is not held in high esteem by either the members of the community or the members of the profession,'' Nifong said from the witness stand, as his wife comforted the couple's crying son in the gallery. "It does not contribute to the cause of justice in general for me to serve as DA. … It is my intention to resign as DA of Durham."
The stunning announcement — following a year in which Nifong vigorously refused calls to drop an ever weakening case, and later, widespread calls to resign — capped an emotionally charged day of testimony in Nifong's trial before the North Carolina State Bar.
Nifong's announcement pre-empts his possibly forced removal from office. Punishment for the disciplinary violations he is accused of include disbarment, could have forced the longtime prosecutor to step down.
Nifong said he brought his son to court to teach him a lesson about taking responsibility for your actions.
"When I saw Mr. [Reade] Seligmann on stand today. … I thought his parents must be very proud of him. And I brought my son here to make sure he saw this so he can be proud of me."
Fighting to restrain his tears and speaking in a halting voice choked with emotion, Nifong denied repeatedly that he ever intentionally lied to further his case.
"The allegation that I am a liar is not justified. I felt that it was important to come before this commission and to defend myself against allegations that I ever misrepresented myself at any time.
"I have never done that and I would never do that. I have always — as my parents raised me — tried to do the right thing and I have always been willing to take responsible for the things that I have done and so I take responsibility in this case for any wrongdoing that might have been done. But I do not take responsibility for lying which I did not do … it's important for me to say this … I am very proud of my son and I want him to be proud of me and I felt it is important for him to see this … I was trying to do the right thing and I was going to come in here and defend my good name but it has become increasingly apparent during the course of this week in ways that it might not have been before that my presence as the DA in Durham is not furthering the course of justice — it is not fair."
"My presence as district attorney of Durham is not furthering cause of justice. Not fair for people of my community to be represented by someone not held in high esteem by either members of community or profession."
And despite widespread belief in the innocence of the players among fellow prosecutors, ordinary Americans and the Attorney General of his own state, Nifong said that he still believes something happened in the bathroom at the party that night.
If not a rape, Nifong testified, then perhaps a physical assault or act of intimidation. "Something happened to make people leave that scene so quickly."
In earlier testimony today one of the cleared Duke lacrosse players broke down in tears on a North Carolina witness stand today as he described the moment he learned he'd been accused of rape.