The Prosecutor's Defense -- Lawyer for Ex-Duke Prosecutor Nifong Speaks Out


Jan. 25, 2007 — -- Mike Nifong, the embattled prosecutor once at the helm of the Duke lacrosse rape case, revealed little as he appeared in court Wednesday to face serious ethics charges by the North Carolina Bar.

In an interview with "Good Morning America," though, Nifong's attorney said that his stone-face expression buried the true feelings of a man under siege.

"He's devastated. It's very upsetting to be attacked. … It's like he's public enemy No. 1," said David Freedman, Nifong's attorney.

"Here's a man who's trying to do his job as an elected DA in Durham County. He's always held himself up as an ethical individual. … It's a bit of a surprise."

Nifong was charged Wednesday with new allegations that include making false statements in court and withholding key DNA evidence. Those, along with earlier charges of making inappropriate public statements about the case, could cost Nifong his job and his livelihood.

"It's very, very serious stuff. Mr. Nifong could lose his law license. [If that happens] he could no longer be [Durham County] district attorney," said Rufus Edmisten, a lawyer and former attorney general of North Carolina.

The new ethics charges have made Nifong feel like he's battling the world, not just supporters of the accused Duke lacrosse players.

"Obviously he's feeling dejected because he's got these new charges against him. He feels as if the world is turning against him," Freedman said.

Nifong still has his supporters, though. After leaving the State Bar courtroom, he was approached by a stranger while walking down the street.

According to Freedman, the middle-age woman looked up, called out to Nifong, ran toward him, and hugged him.

"We're praying for you," she said.

Nifong denies having knowingly lied or purposely hid evidence in the Duke case. Even after everything that has happened, he does not regret filing charges against three Duke lacrosse players.

"I have asked him if he would do it all over again, would he bring these charges," Freedman said. "He said yes because he believes that indeed that this [crime] occurred."

Nifong, however, concedes that he should not have called Duke lacrosse players "hooligans" in the early weeks of the investigation.

"He may regret some of the things he may have said," Freedman said. But, Freedman also pointed out, "If many of us had an opportunity to go back and do something over, we might do it differently."

"I don't think he would have changed his mind about the charges," Freedman said.

Given what he knew after he first heard the allegations of rape and assault, it was part of Nifong's obligation as a prosecutor to pursue the case, according to former North Carolina attorney general Edmisten.

"You have to remember this: The [sexual assault] charges were brought to him," he said. "In many cases it's 'he said, she said' -- and that's not unusual. Charges are sometimes brought on that."

Nifong's written response to the ethics complaint will be filed by Feb. 23 and will contain more details about his defense, Freedman said.

Nifong recused himself from the Duke lacrosse case on Jan. 13. Since then, reams of evidence have been transferred to the custody of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's office, which has taken over the prosecution's case.

Freedman said Nifong would have stepped down sooner, but he waited to speak directly with the accuser, a 28-year-old woman who said that three Duke lacrosse players had sexually assaulted her in March.

"He couldn't [take] steps to get out until he actually talked to the prosecuting witness in the case," Freedman said.

"He didn't want her to find out about the case the same way he's found out about [a] lot [of] developments about the case: in the media. He felt the responsibility to tell her [himself]."

Nifong could not reach the accuser until Jan. 12 because of medical complications related to her pregnancy.

While the specifics of Nifong's defense are still unclear, the severity of the charges against him is without question.

"When you have a conservative organization like the North Carolina State Bar alleging that someone got up to the line and crossed over the line, it's pretty strong evidence that something occurred that should not have occurred," Edmisten said.

"I don't want to condemn Mr. Nifong," Edmisten said. "I think he started out well meaning, and this just overtook him. But a prosecutor can't inflame the public so that the accused cannot get a fair trial. That's what the complaint is from the state bar -- and that's the more minor part."

Even in a case full of surprising developments that strain precedent, no one in Durham can remember a case where a district attorney had to defend himself on ethics charges in an ongoing case.

As things stand, Nifong could be defending himself in court before the indicted Duke lacrosse players do -- if the sexual assault case goes to trial.

ABC News' Rony Camille in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events