Former Duke Prosecutor's Recusal Letter Revealed

ByLARA SETRAKIAN<br>ABC Law & Justice Unit</br>

Jan. 23, 2007 &#151; -- Earlier this month, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong changed the course of the Duke lacrosse saga by sending a letter to the North Carolina attorney general's office, requesting that it take over the case.

ABC News obtained a copy of that letter, which describes, in Nifong's own words, the reasoning and circumstances behind his decision.

According to the letter, Nifong felt he had to step down because he was the subject of an investigation that provided a conflict of interest. The charges, filed Dec. 28, accuse Nifong of making improper and potentially prejudicial comments about Duke lacrosse players and the case against them.

"In addition to fueling any existing public perception that I have a conflict of interest in this matter, this filing has also created an actual conflict, as I am now personally the subject of an investigation and charges in this case," Nifong wrote of the ethics complaint.

On Wednesday, Nifong is expected to appear at a prehearing conference related to the ethics violation complaint. The meeting, to be held in a courtroom at the offices of the North Carolina Bar, is in preparation for a May 11 trial. If the three-person panel presiding at that trial finds Nifong guilty, they could hand him a punishment ranging from private reprimand to disbarment.

In his letter, Nifong also mentioned public statements made by his fellow North Carolina district attorneys, who called for him to step down. The North Carolina conference of district attorneys issued a Dec.29 press release stating that Nifong should recuse himself from the case.

Nifong also provides some insight into his timing, explaining why he handed over the case when he did. He held off from stepping down until he could speak directly with the accuser, a 28-year-old woman who said she was assaulted by three lacrosse players. Nifong wanted to tell her of his decision before stepping down so that she wouldn't learn about it from the press.

"I was not able prior to this week to discuss these [conflict of interest] developments with the victim because of the precariousness of her personal health due to complications in her pregnancy," Nifong wrote.

"We finally spoke at length about this matter yesterday, after which she agreed that the case should be referred to you for prosecution."

Court documents show that the woman was present at Nifong's office on Jan. 12, one day before the letter was sent.

"[The accuser] also assured me that she would give you her full cooperation in this matter," Nifong wrote.

The recusal letter was addressed to Jim Coman, a prosecutor with Attorney General Roy Cooper's office, who has since taken over the case. The next pretrial hearing for the three indicted Duke lacrosse players is scheduled for Feb. 5 at the Durham County courthouse.

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