IN DROPPING RAPE CHARGES against three Duke University lacrosse players -- while insisting that he will continue to pursue other allegations against the young men -- Durham County, N.C., Dist. Atty. Mike Nifong has further undermined his already sagging reputation for fairness.
Attorneys for David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann have a vested interest in arguing that the case against their clients is now so compromised that the remaining charges also should be dismissed. Still, their argument is persuasive.
We may never know exactly what happened the night of March 13, when an African American woman hired to strip at a party for the team says she was attacked by three white students in a bathroom. What is clear is that Nifong, whose election campaign for a full term overlapped with the investigation, lost control of his tongue and participated in the transformation of this incident from a case into a cause -- usually an ominous development for the administration of justice.
There were other lapses. For example, the director of a laboratory retained by Nifong admitted that, after conferring with prosecutors, he initially decided to withhold evidence that DNA evidence taken from the woman's body didn't match samples submitted by the defendants or their teammates. On Friday came what should have been the fatal blow to the prosecution: the dismissal of rape charges because the woman told investigators -- last week! -- that she couldn't be sure whether she had been penetrated by a penis, a requirement for a rape charge in North Carolina.