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Duke case lawyer: Try to imagine the pain
Charlotte Observer ^ | 1/28/07 | GARY L. WRIGHT

Posted on 01/28/2007 3:05:24 PM PST by randita

Posted on Sun, Jan. 28, 2007


Duke case lawyer: Try to imagine the pain

Defender for 1 of the accused players talks about impact on family


Charlotte lawyer Jim Cooney is handling the highest-profile case of his career: defending one of three Duke lacrosse players charged with sexually assaulting an exotic dancer a team party last March. The three men -- David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann -- are white. The woman is black.

Cooney, for the first time since being hired to defend Seligmann, talked in depth about case that fueled racial tensions in Durham, led to the suspension of Duke's lacrosse program and left Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong facing ethics charges.

Q. How have these three men been affected by the publicity and the allegations?

The best way to answer this question is to ask everyone who may be reading this to imagine how they would feel if their picture -- or a picture of their sons or daughters -- appeared on the cover of Newsweek accused of a crime as heinous and vile as rape. Then I would ask everyone to consider that if the district attorney had succeeded in convicting these young men of all of the crimes with which they had been charged, none of these young men would have been released from prison until they were well into their 50s. They literally would have never seen their parents alive again outside a prison visiting room. It does not take much imagination to understand the daily pain that these young men and their families go through each day these cases are permitted to continue.

Q. Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong has been accused of withholding evidence favorable to the defendants. The DA eventually dropped the rape charges after the victim changed her story. He now faces ethics charges levied by the N.C. State Bar. What is happening in this case?

I think my answer to this question is better left until the resolution of these cases. Moreover, Mr. Nifong is now the subject of ethics charges by the State Bar, and I think it is important to accord him something that was not given to these young men -- due process and a fair trial.

Q. Do you think we'll ever know what happened during the team party on March 13, 2006?

I feel very confident that we know what happened. I am also confident that there are certain people who will never believe the facts of this case because it does not fit their view of the case or their personal agendas. The simple truth, as the facts show, is that there was no rape, no sex offense and no kidnapping.

Q. What do you believe happened inside that house?

There is little question that this was a party in which a number of young men were engaging in conduct -- drinking, watching strippers -- that is offensive and about which they should have known better. This said, nothing that occurred at that party justifies either jailing these young men for 30 years or the national condemnation and death threats that they received.

Q. Do you think the news media played a role in the players being charged?

The media played a pivotal role in these cases, both in leading the "charge" against the players, and then in the re-evaluation of the cases in light of the objective evidence. There is little question that, fueled by the district attorney's comments and focused on the theme of "privileged white males vs. poor black female," a feeding frenzy developed among the media with one commentator after another competing to outdo each other in their condemnation of the defendants.

The feeding frenzy led to an atmosphere of outrage that not only demanded indictments -- regardless of the evidence -- but was directly responsible for street protests in Durham and in front of Dave Evans' house and the mob that confronted Reade Seligmann at his court appearance, a mob that shouted out death threats.

Q. The DA has taken himself off the case and asked the N.C. Attorney General's Office to take over the prosecution. What do you hope will happen now?

My hope is that all of the charges will be dismissed against all of these young men. My belief is that the prosecutors now reviewing the case will do so professionally and honestly.

Q. What do you make of the tensions of race and gender that this case has exposed?

I think many of these tensions pre-existed this case. Perhaps one of the great tragedies of this case is that the African American community in Durham has historically been one of the most vibrant, prosperous and successful communities in this state, even during the height of segregation. The success and resiliency of that community has been lost in the media frenzy surrounding this case. Regrettably, these cases were hijacked by individuals who had an agenda that had nothing to do with Durham, these defendants or justice. I fear that this case has widened the race and gender tensions that existed before, and so polarized people that any attempt to relieve those tensions has been set back by years.

Q. Will this case change how prosecutors deal with rape cases?

I can't speak for how prosecutors will view rape cases. I do fear that many legitimate victims of rape will not come forward after these cases because their real claims will be met with skepticism. There was a long struggle in this country to force the justice system to take rape cases seriously and treat real victims of rape with the dignity and justice that they deserve. I fear that these efforts have been set back by decades because of this case.

Q. Why do you think this case attracted so much attention?

I think there were really three factors. The first was that this case was a "perfect storm" of race, class and gender issues -- it appeared to appeal to our worst thoughts about male athletes and underprivileged women of color. Second, the district attorney was so adamant and certain in his public statements that these crimes occurred -- and that they were racially motivated -- that even casual viewers could not help but be outraged by it. The third was that a number of constituencies -- both the media and individuals with various race, gender and class agendas -- then seized upon the case for their own purposes. This created a Pandora's box that, once opened, could not be shut.

High-Profile Cases

Charlotte lawyer Jim Cooney defended serial killer Henry Louis Wallace, who was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murders of nine women. Cooney, 49, is a death penalty expert who helped get Alan Gell off North Carolina's death row in 2002 and won him a retrial and an acquittal. Last year, Cooney defended bank executive David Crespi, who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his 5-year-old twin daughters.

Gary L. Wright

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; US: North Carolina
KEYWORDS: duke; dukelax; nifong; rape
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To: rickdylan; gcruse; All

"...and you know this how?"

Um, it's time to pay the domain name bill, son (

Reading, I love it!

61 posted on 02/01/2007 10:01:31 AM PST by Guilty by Association (End the Durham FARCE initiated by the FRAUD Attorney!)
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To: Guilty by Association

Looks like Blogger is down for maintenance. Thanks for the headsup, GBA.

62 posted on 02/01/2007 10:08:06 AM PST by gcruse (
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To: Guilty by Association

Actually, that's a badly formed URL.
Should be...

63 posted on 02/01/2007 10:13:18 AM PST by gcruse (
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To: bert; derllak; GoldenPup; All

"He will be disbarred but will make big bucks from book and TV rights"

That's what judgements are for.

64 posted on 02/01/2007 10:14:02 AM PST by Guilty by Association (End the Durham FARCE initiated by the FRAUD Attorney!)
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To: Tax-chick; Moose4; All

"Sports above all. "Real" sports, not lacrosse :-)."

I suppose then, that your definition of "Real sports" excludes "Real-men's sports" like lacrosse?

65 posted on 02/01/2007 10:31:07 AM PST by Guilty by Association (End the Durham FARCE initiated by the FRAUD Attorney!)
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To: Guilty by Association

Oh, for heaven's sake. Televised, big-money sports, that the rich alumni really care about ... okay?

66 posted on 02/01/2007 5:53:29 PM PST by Tax-chick ("Hyperbolic rodomontade of the most puerile type." ~ Aaron Elkins)
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