Durham, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong has requested that he have himself removed from prosecuting the Duke lacrosse sexual assault investigation. ABC News broke the story, first reporting Nifong's recusal Friday afternoon.
Three Duke lacrosse players, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, were indicted in 2006 on charges of rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping after a lacrosse team party on the night of March 13. Rape charges were dropped in December after the accuser could not recall key details of the alleged attack.
A source close to the investigation said Nifong sent a letter to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper asking his office to assume responsibility of the case. A press spokeswoman for Cooper confirmed to ABC News that his office has received a request for a special prosecutor on the case.
Last week, that spokeswoman said the attorney general would take on the Duke lacrosse case only if requested by Nifong, consistent with North Carolina law.
Nifong initially refused to comment on the news, telling reporters he was "not commenting on this case" as he walked out of the courthouse Friday.
Roughly four months from now, Nifong will face charges of his own, after being served an ethics complaint from the North Carolina bar. He will be subject to disciplinary action for his comments to the press about the lacrosse players and the case against them, with penalties ranging from a private reprimand to disbarment.
Nifong is handing off the case less than two weeks after the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys called for his the prosecutor to step down from the prosecution. Others following the case, including Duke University President Richard Brodhead, also called for Nifong to step down, citing an irreconcilable conflict of interest: Nifong could not handle the case in a fair and independent way while he himself was facing legal action for his conduct.
The accuser met with Nifong in his office on Thursday, appearing so that she could be served a subpoena to appear at a Feb. 5 pre-trial hearing. At that meeting, Nifong reportedly informed the accuser that he would rescue himself and let the attorney general's office take over.
In Durham, Nifong's decision was met with widespread approval from those close to the case.
David Freedman, an attorney in Winston-Salem, N.C., will be representing Nifong in the public hearings, and told the Associated Press today that, "[Nifong] feels, as a result of the accusations against him, that he would be a distraction, and he wants to make sure the accuser receives a fair trial."
"He still believes in the case," Freedman said. "He just believes his continued presence would hurt her."
"I think it's the best thing for all involved, especially for my cousin,'' said the accuser's cousin, Jakki, who asked that only her first name be used. "Maybe whoever comes in [to replace Nifong] can salvage this thing, because right now the whole case is being overshadowed by his mistakes. I think this is the best situation possible right now."
"We welcome this,'' Collin's Finnerty's father, Kevin Finnerty, told the ABC News Law and Justice Unit." We'd be glad to have an objective set of eyes on this case."
Finnerty was readmitted to Duke earlier this month, but was not registered and was not on campus when the semester began on Wednesday.
Duke University has also expressed its approval of Nifong's handoff.
We welcome the news that the district attorney has asked to be removed from this case," said John Burness, Duke's senior vice president for public affairs, in a statement.
"This matter needs to be placed in the hands of an independent party who can restore confidence in the fairness and integrity of the legal process," the statement added. "We hope this change will lead to a fair and speedy resolution of this case."
A disciplinary hearing for Nifong is scheduled for May 11 in Raleigh, N.C. and will be open to the public. Cooper is expected to speak about the case with reporters on Saturday.
Rony Camille and Chris Francescani contributed to this article.