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Durham Justice, Before The Lax Case

We went back this week and watched The Staircase again, the documentary about the Michael Peterson trial. You may remember that he was convicted in Durham of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson.

After watching it, we couldn't help but be reminded of the Duke lacrosse case, or more specifically, of how justice was perverted in that case. In retrospect, there are similarities, and they are, in retrospect, disturbing.

In one scene, David Rudolph confronts a witness and finds out that a critical piece of evidence had been withheld. There was sloppy police work. And equally damning, when the body of Elizabeth Ratliff was exhumed, the defense asked to have an impartial coroner examine it (the original coroner found that Ratliff had died of a cerebral hemorrhage and apparently suffered from von Willebrand's disease. This was partly based on the fact that she had blood in her cerebrospinal fluid and had had severe headaches for weeks). The body was instead sent to Durham where the same coroner who did Mrs. Peterson's autopsy performed the second autopsy on Ratliff.

After seeing not just Mike Nifong's office but also the police department try to tailor the evidence to the alleged crime, it wouldn't be surprising to find that the same things happened in this case.

This is the legacy of Nifong, really: every case in Durham for years will carry a shadow. Both cases are over, but the institutional housecleaning that needs to happen still hasn't.

On a different note, not everyone is down on Nifong. Victoria Peterson is still carrying his banner and had some fairly amazing things to say recently on WPTF, including the suggestion that N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper exonerated the lacrosse players because some of their backers made heavy contributions to his campaign war chest. There's more - give it a listen.