ABC NEWS EXCLUSIVE: Durham Republicans to Challenge District Attorney Over Duke Case

ByCHRIS FRANCESCANI and the ABC News Law & Justice Unit via via logo

June 19, 2006 — -- The Durham Republican Party will field a candidate to run against the district attorney leading the investigation in the Duke lacrosse rape case in the November election, ABC News' Law & Justice Unit has learned.

Durham Republican County Chairman Steve Monks told ABC News that he will announce his intention to challenge Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong in a press conference at 4 p.m. ET today. Monks and Durham County Republicans acknowledged that the Duke rape investigation weighed heavily in their decision to field a GOP candidate in a traditionally Democratic county.

"People feel [Nifong] totally sold out the people of Durham,'' Monks said. "They don't feel comfortable with this case. They feel like it was a sellout, that he pandered to the people of Durham.''

Nifong couldn't be reached for comment Sunday night. He stopped commenting publicly about the Duke lacrosse case in April, and the voicemail at his office says, "Mr. Nifong has no comment for the press at this time about the lacrosse matter.''

Monks said he would reserve judgment about the Duke lacrosse investigation if and until he is elected. However, he said, if he is elected and determines that the Duke case is weak, he would dismiss the charges.

"I would review the facts and find out what it is that Mike Nifong has on these kids, and I'd try it if there's a case and dismiss it if there isn't,'' Monks told ABC News.

Monks had just finished a phone conversation with Nifong when he announced his candidacy to ABC News.

"Mike was interested by my news, but said he was frustrated with the political process," Monks said. "I asked him if I was high on his list of frustration, and he said, 'No.'"

"I told him, man to man, this is what I'm going to do. … I thought it was the right thing to do to tell him before I announced it," Monks continued. "I told him I thought I could do this job well, and he questioned candidly the issue of my experience.

"His last comment was, "This is very interesting,'' Monks said.

Monks acknowledged that his background is family law and that he has never served as a prosecutor. But he noted that Nifong hadn't tried a criminal case in several years.

"Prior to Mike being elevated to this position, he was in traffic court,'' Monks said. "He hadn't been doing serious trial work in years. I had quite a bit of experience with him in traffic court.''

Monks said his candidacy was largely fueled by growing doubt that Nifong can successfully prosecute the Duke case.

"Certainly from what the newspapers are reporting, I have to believe -- and I have a feeling -- that this would be a very difficult case to prosecute," he said. "I haven't seen the evidence but what has been reported certainly suggested that this would be a difficult case to prosecute.''

Monks said that many of his potential supporters have been frustrated by the developments in the Duke investigation. Three Duke lacrosse players -- Reade Seligmann, 20, Collin Finnerty, 19, and co-captain David Evans, 23, -- have been charged with raping a woman hired to dance at a March 13 team party. Coach Mike Pressler resigned shortly after the accusations were first made, ending a 16-year tenure marked by three Atlantic Coast Conference championships and a trip to the 2005 national final.

There have been numerous questions about the alleged victim's allegations, prompting defense attorneys to file a motion to get her photo lineup identification of the three lacrosse players tossed out the case.

According to defense attorneys, the dancers in the lacrosse party have given different accounts of what happened the night of the alleged rape.

In motions filed earlier this month, defense lawyer Kirk Osborn argued that Durham police withheld key facts contradicting the alleged victim's account when they obtained a court order to photograph and take DNA samples from the Duke lacrosse team members.

Among those facts was a second dancer's initial statement to police that her partner's rape allegations are a "crock'' and that she was with the woman for all but "less than five minutes'' of the time the pair spent at the lacrosse party. The defense also says that during an examination by a sexual assault nurse following the party, the alleged victim implicated her dance partner, Kim Roberts, in the attack on her.

According to an April 9 police report, the alleged victim initially told a Durham police sergeant that she was raped, then quickly recanted, and then -- in the presence of the sexual assault nurse -- contended again that she'd be raped, according to an April 9 police report.

Defense attorneys say that despite complaints of being kicked, strangled and raped, the nurse found no serious injuries that would be expected to result from such a brutal attack. The alleged victim, the defense argues, told police early in the investigation that she had "perform[ed]'' for a couple in a hotel room using a sexual device known as a vibrator prior to arriving at the lacrosse party. They believe that the mild vaginal bruising the nurse discovered could have resulted from that performance, not an alleged rape by lacrosse players.

The defense claims that entire process, and hence the lineup evidence, is tainted because the investigator did not provide complete information in his affidavit.

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