New York congressman calls for a probe of the Duke lacrosse prosecutor
A second congressman has urged the Department of Justice to investigate whether the district attorney in the Duke lacrosse sexual assault violated the rights of the defendants.
Rep. Peter King, whose Long Island district includes relatives of one of the accused students, Collin Finnerty, urged Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to begin an investigation into Mike Nifong, who asked last week to be recused from the case.
"I am deeply disappointed by your apparent decision to defer a decision whether to investigate Mr. Nifong's prosecution of this case," King wrote to Gonzales, arguing that the FBI should investigate whether the prosecutor may have violated Finnerty's civil rights, including the right to due process under the law.
Justice Department spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said it was too early to launch a federal probe.
"It would be premature to initiate a federal investigation while criminal charges and other procedures are pending in the state of North Carolina," Magnuson said.
A message left at Nifong's office was not immediately returned.
King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, is the son of a New York Police Department lieutenant. His request for an investigation is the latest addition to the chorus of public criticism of Nifong's handling of the case.
Justice Department officials said Tuesday they had rejected a similar request from North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, also a Republican. Jones' spokeswoman, Kathleen Joyce, said the congressman still planned to meet next week with the head of the department's Civil Rights Division.
Special prosecutors with the North Carolina attorney general's office have been assigned to take over the case against the three accused lacrosse players -- Finnerty, Dave Evans and Reade Seligmann.
The three are accused of attacking a stripper hired to perform at a team party in March.
Nifong dropped rape charges against the players last month after the woman wavered on some key details, but the men still face sexual offense and kidnapping charges. The players have strongly proclaimed their innocence.
Meanwhile, a letter signed by dozens of Duke professors and posted on the Internet said while they also presume the players are innocent, they won't apologize for a widely criticized ad published in the campus newspaper. That ad included anonymous quotes from students discussing racism and sexual assault on Duke's campus.
"The ad has been read as a comment on the alleged rape, the team party, or the specific students accused," the letter said. "Worse, it has been read as rendering a judgment in the case. ... We reject all attempts to try the case outside the courts, and stand firmly by the principle of the presumption of innocence."
The letter is signed by 87 faculty members, many of whom endorsed the ad in April.
Since he was recused, Nifong has handed over thousands of pages of information to the special prosecutors. One of them, Mary Winstead, worked with Nifong as an assistant district attorney in Durham for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Some lawyers said she was an unusual choice for the case considering that Nifong's handling of the case has been heavily criticized.
"She may not be investigating Mike, but she's investigating Mike's work," said attorney Alex Charns, who represents an unindicted lacrosse player. "(Nifong's) conduct is part and parcel of this prosecution. There's no way to untangle that."
The North Carolina State Bar has filed ethics charges against Nifong for making misleading and inflammatory comments about the lacrosse team early in the case.
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