DURHAM — At the beginning of a hearing today on criminal contempt charges rising out of his handling of the Duke lacrosse case, former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong apologized to the three former lacrosse players he had tried to prosecute on sexual assault charges, and to their families.
Nifong, with a new and neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard and mustache, said that after reading N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper's full report on the lacrosse case, he no longer believes there was credible evidence to proceed with cases against the players or that any crimes were committed against Crystal Gail Mangum, the escort service dancer who made the allegations.
"The last 16 months have proven to be a difficult and painful journey," he said, reading a prepared statement. "It is my hope that all of us can learn from the mistakes of this case, that all of us can begin to move forward. It is my hope we can start this process today."
None of the exonerated players or their family members attended the hearing.
Defense lawyer Joseph B. Cheshire V said the families were appreciative of Nifong's apology today.
"For many months, we have sought a real and meaningful apology from Mr. Nifong for the pain he has caused these families and these young men," Cheshire said.
Judge W. Osmond Smith III has accused Nifong of lying to the court in September 2006 about withholding DNA evidence favorable to the lacrosse players.
After Nifong's apology, lawyers representing the players agreed not to seek sanctions against Nifong, who resigned early this month and is in the process of being disbarred.
The defense team had previously asked Smith to make Nifong pay for the 60 to 100 hours of work it took one of the lawyers to ferret out relevant test results in 1,844 pages of DNA documents. The results helped show the presence of DNA from men not on the lacrosse team on and in Magnum.
Nifong's lawyers, Jim Glover and Ann B. Petersen, asked the judge for a grand jury indictment before proceeding with the case, but Smith denied their request. They also asked for a jury trial, which also was turned down.
The lawyers did not get into the heart of the contempt case today. The judge scheduled a hearing on the matter for Aug. 30 and 31.
Nifong could face a possible fine as well as a jail sentence of up to 30 days.
The players were exonerated and declared innocent of all charges in April by Cooper.
Nifong resigned as district attorney earlier this month after a State Bar disciplinary panel found the prosecutor guilty of intentionally and repeatedly lying and cheating during his prosecution of the lacrosse case.
Nifong angered the players and their parents in June when, after a day of tearful and emotional testimony, he said that despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he believed something happened in the bathroom the night of the team party.
Defense lawyers have said the players scattered in the wee hours of the morning after the team party because the second escort service dancer threatened to call police about racial slurs uttered by partygoers.
One of the residents of the rental house was worried about being charged with a noise violation for the loud party and forced his teammates to leave.