clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cash Michaels And The Lax Case

In the last few days, the N.C. State bar has filed an extraordinary public
complaint against Mike Nifong (the charges are likely to be expanded when the
bar grievance committee convenes again on Jan. 18), the North Carolina's District Attorneys’
Conference has called for him to recuse himself from the case, in what was
called a "unanimous" statement by Conference president Garry Frank,
and the defense has opted to call Brian Meehan, head of DNA Security, the
lab which conspired with Mike Nifong to suppress exulpatory evidence, as their
own witness. Things would appear to be going heavily against Nifong.
But he has one consistent backer.

Cash Michaels has these comments
in his latest article:

  • Duke Three supporters, few if any who’ll ever be nominated for the
    “Open Mind Award,” have, and continue to flex literally every muscle
    they have to derail this case so that it goes anywhere but to trial.
  • They are well organized, and well financed. The families of the three
    indicted white players have the money to bankroll the first-class defense
    team that has been rolling thunder against the prosecution for the past
    eight months, trying to scare the accuser into dropping the case, poison the
    Durham jury pool, or trigger a compelling reason for change of venue.
  • We’ve seen their case for change of venue. It is a lie-ridden, racist
    fairy tale that would have the average citizen believe that
    African-Americans in Durham - beyond raising their families, going to work,
    going to school, paying their taxes or working to contribute to their
    community - would actually make time to threaten the lives and well-being of
    jurors who sit on this case just because they want to see three white boys
  • And of course, the phone call to CBS News President Sean McManus,
    encouraging him to get the most prestigious television news program in
    history, “60 Minutes,” to do a two-part, one-sided “expose’” which
    told us nothing about the Duke lacrosse team’s past run-ins with the law;
    nothing about the second dancer’s felony convictions and attempts to sell
    her side of the Duke story; and no one who could at least speak to the
    possibility of a case, even if Nifong, the accuser or the Durham PD decided
    they didn’t want to speak; was a raw example of commandeering a major
    network’s news operation for their cause in hopes of stopping Nifong’s
    November election bid....Oh, did we tell you that CBS News President Sean
    McManus is a 1977 Duke alumnus? What are the chances that he had a little to
    do with how that “expose’” turned out?
  • Justice, in the Duke case, will be determined by a fair judge, and/or a
    properly constituted jury in Durham County, and nowhere else! The people
    there have the right to hear all that went on that fateful March night, in
    evidence and sworn testimony...A just verdict then should be reached, no
    matter what it is...That is the system of justice any and every fair-minded
    American should demand, and expect. And if proven violations of civil rights
    by the police or the prosecution are determined by either the state or
    federal governments, then so be it...But it’s time for the lies,
    distortions and racism from Duke Three supporters to cease, though we know
    it won’t...Your money and power does not put you at the head of the line...You
    will wait your turn, like everyone else, whether you like it or not!

Pretty clearly, there's some inflammatory stuff, and you can't say he didn't
warn you.

We've had an interesting time reading his comments on the case. At
times, he has made some sharp points which have to be considered. But it's
getting increasingly hard to buy the arguments against the case. When the bar
issues a complaint in the middle of the case and even his fellow district
attorneys urge Nifong to leave the case, you know, whatever bitterness oozes out
of Cash Michaels is in opposition to the facts as they are understood by laymen
and professionals alike.

Some of his criticisms are nonetheless true and extend beyond the current
trial. Certainly far too many African Americans are convicted for crimes
they didn't commit (one is too many; the level of false conviction is a
significant stain on this country). And it's equally certain that there
are many African Americans in Durham who would be excellent jurors and not
swayed by the insane amount of attention this case has gotten.

And when he says this: "Besides, if it were three Black NCCU basketball
players accused of raping a white Duke coed, how many of these country club
activists running their mouths today would be advocating as forcefully for them?...
How many have in the past? ...Close to none would be strikingly accurate,
wouldn’t it?"

Well, come on, he has a point.

He has consistently discussed the role of race in American justice from an
African American perspective, and that's very valuable. A lot of what he
says in this article is just wrong, but draw out the important stuff: he's
right when he says that Blacks consistently get a different version of justice
than do whites.

But having said that, there's a lot of nonsense in this article. For
instance, who called Sean McManus, a Duke grad, and got him to push the story on
60 Minutes? More to the point, the late Ed Bradley was immensely respected
and was a man of immense character. So he did this story knowing that he
was likely dying of leukemia. Who convinced a man who knew he was about to
die to push this story? Why would Bradley do something which he didn't
believe in when he knew he was likely to die shortly? That just makes no
sense. It's a baseless accusation and Michaels, who has at times written
eloquently about this case, should know better.

He also argues that Nifong wouldn't pursue this if he didn't believe
something had happened, but accepting that argument, a) why did no one from his
office bother to interview the alleged victim until a few days ago, and b) why
conspire with Meehan to cover up exulpatory evidence?

The alleged victim (AV) has some serious problems too. After offering
several versions of the events of the night in question, she now cannot say with
certainty that she was raped, but rather that something penetrated
her. But she did say that one of her alleged assailants ejaculated in her
mouth, and originally said that others ejaculated inside of her as

Yet the DNA tests revealed the presence of several other men, but no members
of the lacrosse team. And the ID problems are a major issue as

Could something have happened at the party? If it took place in a very
narrow time frame, and you can steer through the virtual traffic cones of the
time-stamped photos, the utter lack of DNA, the small time the two strippers
were not together, and if you can find a way to account for Reade Seligmann's
presence at a bank machine and his multiple phone calls and various receipts,
well, then sure.

Michaels previously suggested that the broomstick which was offered as an
alternative sex toy could be what penetrated the AV. But as
forensic nurse Kathleen Eckelt
suggested, penetration by a broom would cause
substantial trauma, and would have been detected in the

Like almost everyone, we don't know exactly what happened (although as KC
Johnson said, we do know what didn't happen). But criminal behavior
must be proven; it can't be assumed, as Nifong (and Michaels) seem to have done.

And we would hope that Cash Michaels would recognize the importance of a
prosecutor behaving ethically. He suggests that many more African
Americans are victims of false conviction, and our instinct is that he is right,
although we don't have any way to prove the hunch. But if prosecutor
would act so recklessly against (presumably) wealthy defendants, what's to stop
him from doing worse to poor defendants? It seems like one of the more
basic lessons of this case, but one which has eluded many.

We're entirely open to any evidence which suggests criminal behavior by
Seligmann, Evans, and Finnerty. But given the corruption from the
prosecutor's office, any conviction at this point would almost certainly be

And one final point: a number of people have sort of suggested that
being indicted is no big deal because the families can "afford"
it. Well, maybe. Who knows? The cost for this case is going to
be incredibly high. The financial hit is bound to be profound, and some
families who may have been wealthy may no longer be.

But that aside, there is the emotional cost. We can't imagine what it
would be like to go through this, and to see your child indicted for something
this serious, only to have the prosecutor appear to be a scoundrel who will let
nothing stand in his way, not even accepting exulpatory evidence.

Increasingly, it looks as if Dave Evans' comments on the day he was indicted,
when he said that he looked forward to unraveling a series of fantastic lies,
were right on the money.

Michaels talks about open-mindedness in this article. He might try a
bit himself.