First the lacrosse-players case, now more turmoil in Durham, N.C.

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The district attorney’s office in Durham, N.C., gained international notoriety in 2006, when then-Dist. Atty. Mike Nifong falsely accused three white Duke University lacrosse players of raping a black stripper at a house party. Nifong was later stripped of his law license, and the players were exonerated.

Now Nifong’s elected successor, Dist. Atty. Tracey Cline, is under fire for allegedly misstating facts to judges and failing to provide evidence favorable to defendants.


In the first installment of a three-part series, ‘Twisted Truth,’ the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., reported Sunday that Cline’s conduct is under review in at least six cases.

In one case, Cline told a court that the state crime lab was to blame for years of delay in forensic tests on crucial evidence in a burglary and home invasion prosecution. In fact, the newspaper reported, Cline waited more than three years to submit the evidence to the lab.

When the evidence was finally tested, none of it matched the defendant.

In another case, a judge last month dismissed a murder charge against a defendant after ruling that the prosecution by Cline had violated his rights. A partial skeleton of the victim was destroyed before the defense could examine it.

In a third case, the same judge found that Cline and another prosecutor violated the rights of a man charged in the death of a two-year-old girl. The defendant was set free after the judge found that prosecutors intentionally withheld information.

Cline, 48, was elected district attorney in 2008 after campaigning on a promise to do the right thing, not the popular thing. Some legal observers had said Nifong’s vigorous public condemnation of the lacrosse players was an attempt to curry public favor during election season.

Cline, who was reelected with no opposition last year, told the newspaper that she speaks truthfully and follows courtroom rules. She acknowledged mistakes, but said they were not intentional.

‘I would not sit in a courtroom and lie. I wouldn’t,’ Cline told the newspaper in an email message. ‘That is not who I am. And anybody that knows me will tell you that. But people make mistakes.’'

In an interview with the paper, Cline said judges regularly throw out evidence in criminal cases.

‘This happens every day because of a violation of someone’s constitutional rights,’ she said. ‘And to be sure, sometimes the guilty people go free.’


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-- David Zucchino in Wilmington, N.C.