RALEIGH, N.C. Facing the loss of his law license, a tearful Mike Nifong said today he will resign as district attorney, more than a year after he obtained rape indictments against three Duke University lacrosse players who were later declared innocent by state prosecutors.
My community has suffered enough, Nifong said from the witness stand at his ethics trial on allegations that he violated rules of professional conduct in his handling of the case.
The North Carolina State Bar said Nifong withheld DNA test results from the players defense attorneys, lied to the court and bar investigators, and made misleading and inflammatory comments about the three athletes, who were cleared of charges they raped a stripper at a team party in March 2006.
Nifong said he did not make all the mistakes alleged by the bar, but they are my mistakes.
It has become increasingly apparent, during the course of this week, in some ways that it might not have been before, that my presence as the district attorney in Durham is not furthering the cause of justice, Nifong said.
Nifong started in the Durham County prosecutor s office nearly three decades ago as a volunteer attorney fresh out of law school. Appointed district attorney in 2005, he was in the middle of his first election as a candidate for the office when a 28-year-old woman told police she had been raped and beaten in a bathroom by three men at a party.
His resignation announcement came at the conclusion of a brutal afternoon of testimony, during which Nifong mixed expressions of remorse with proclamations of ignorance as he attempted to defend his actions. Nifong stunned even his own attorneys with the news, who said they had no idea what their client had planned.
It is not fair for the people of my community to be represented by someone who is not held in high esteem by either the members of the community or the members of the profession, Nifong said. I will go to my grave being associated with this case. And that s OK. I don t have a problem with that.
His soft-spoken statements were barely audible in the courtroom, where observers leaned forward in their chairs as they struggled to hear Nifong through his tears.
But the families of cleared players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans watched with little emotion, and Evans attorney rejected Nifong s attempt to take responsibility.
It was an obvious cynical ploy to save his law license, and his apology to these people is far too little and comes far too late, defense lawyer Joseph Cheshire said.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who in April said the three athletes were innocent victims of a rogue prosecutor s tragic rush to accuse, declined to comment. Gov. Mike Easley, who appointed Nifong to the job and will be called on to pick his replacement, also had no comment, a spokeswoman said.
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