Duke Prosecutor Apologizes


April 12, 2007 — -- Mike Nifong, the district attorney in Durham County, N.C., who was slammed for his handling of the Duke lacrosse case, today apologized to the students and said it was appropriate to drop the charges.

"To the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused," Nifong said in a statement.

Jim Cooney, a lawyer for Reade Seligmann, one of the accused, spoke to ABC News: "It's one thing to consider all the facts and then make a judgment. It's another thing altogether to not consider the facts, to not want to consider the facts, and then make a judgment based on no facts."

Earlier Nifong's lawyer told ABC News that Wednesday was a "humiliating" day for Nifong.

That's when State Attorney General Roy Cooper called Nifong a "rogue prosecutor" who had exercised more bravado than caution in pursuing three Duke lacrosse players on rape charges.

But while Nifong disagreed with those and other characterizations of his work, he took no issue with Cooper's decision to drop the case, said David Freedman, Nifong's attorney, in an exclusive interview with ABC's Law & Justice Unit.

"He has no problem at all with the dismissal of the charges," Freedman said. "He thinks it was the appropriate decision based on the careful analysis by the special prosecutors."

Freedman said it was not a sign of wrongdoing on Nifong's part that it took a year for the three men to be cleared. Many cases, including those that involve innocent defendants, often take that long to be resolved, he said.

"This case played out appropriately for the three players from Duke," Freedman said. "The process may have taken longer than they would have liked, longer than perhaps it should have. But the process worked."

Freedman wouldn't comment directly when asked what Nifong thought of the attorney general's statements, among them the suggestion that Nifong had "rushed to judgment" and failed to serve justice. He did, however, say that Nifong would have a chance to address those assertions over the course of his hearings before the North Carolina Bar Association.

"I would ask the same people who accused Mr. Nifong of rushing to judgment not to rush to judgment themselves," Freedman said.

Nifong faces an ethics trial in June before the bar. He is accused of making inappropriate comments about the case to the press, withholding evidence and lying to bar investigators as well as the presiding judge. Nifong's law license could be suspended or revoked.

Freedman says he doesn't think the attorney general's remarks or the dismissal of the Duke lacrosse case will make it any harder for Nifong to defend himself against charges of unethical conduct.

"It should have no bearing [on the ethics case] whatsoever," he said. "The two things are separate and apart."

The bar complaint argues that Nifong violated the constitutional rights of the three accused players by withholding potentially exculpatory DNA evidence from the defense. Nifong's attorneys rebut that, saying he handed over all evidence in a timely and appropriate manner.

Freedman recognizes the contradiction between Nifong's current situation and a statement he made at the start of the rape case. In a comment to the media, Nifong asked why the players needed to hire attorneys if they were not guilty.

Now Nifong has hired his own attorneys but maintains he is not guilty of unethical conduct.

"Anytime somebody has been accused of anything or even suspicion of anything, I think they should hire an attorney," Freedman said. "People need an attorney anytime they're dealing with the judicial process."

Freedman brushed aside calls for Nifong to step down as Durham County's district attorney. Beth Brewer, a Durham citizen and political rival of Nifong's, filed court documents asking the county's chief judge to remove Nifong from office. The judge in the case said he would wait until the bar process had run its course.

"The people of Durham have elected him to that position. They want him to stay in that position. His office is running well at this point," Freedman said.

Nifong is "a career prosecutor that he has spent his whole life trying to work for justice," Freedman said. "He recused himself [in January]. He turned the case over. He was fine with an independent review."

The three lacrosse players have not publicly stated whether they plan to pursue a civil suit against Nifong or anyone else involved with the case.

Nifong is scheduled to appear at an April 13 bar hearing, where his lawyers will argue that some of the more serious charges against him should be dropped.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.