Prosecutor in Duke Rape Case Wins Primary Election

Times Staff Writer

Mike Nifong, the lead prosecutor in the Duke University lacrosse scandal, defeated two strong critics in a Durham County, N.C., election Tuesday, virtually ensuring that he will head a controversial rape case that he has vowed to take to trial.

Nifong, who has spent more than 25 years in the Durham County district attorney’s office, was facing his first-ever election after being appointed to the top prosecutor’s job last year. His opponents, both private attorneys, said he mishandled the Duke case by criticizing the players before any arrests were made.

Defense attorneys have gone a step further, demanding that Nifong be removed from the case and alleging he ignored key evidence because it would benefit him in the election.


Nifong received 45% of the vote in a Democratic primary that will almost definitely determine the winner in the November election, because no Republicans have joined in the race.

The results were based on returns from 98% of precincts reporting late Tuesday. Freda Black, a former Durham prosecutor, ran a close second with 41% of the votes cast. Black reminded voters that she successfully prosecuted Durham’s last high-profile case in 2003 when author Michael Peterson was convicted of killing his wife. Unlike Nifong, she told voters, she refused to talk to the press until a verdict was reached.

Keith Bishop -- the sole African American candidate in a county that is nearly 40% black -- took 14% of the vote.

Nifong, who has mostly shunned the press in recent weeks, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

His director of campaign operations, Julie Linehan, said the outcome was a relief -- but she didn’t necessarily view the election as a referendum on the Duke case.

“I think a lot of the community is really conflicted [about the case], even though they support Mike,” she said. “They know he’s very competent -- that he’s been doing this for a long time. I think they basically trust his judgment.”

The rape investigation has drawn national media attention, and exacerbated race and class tensions in Durham. It centers around a 27-year-old black exotic dancer who has accused three white men of raping and choking her at a Duke lacrosse team party.

Two Duke lacrosse players, Reade William Seligmann and Collin H. Finnerty, have been indicted, and Nifong said he hoped to indict a third suspect.

Candidates with no party affiliation still have a chance to appear on the Nov. 7 general election ballot if they garner about 6,400 signatures of registered voters by the last Friday in June. Write-in candidates can qualify if they gather 100 signatures by that date. But Tuesday’s contenders are barred from qualifying as unaffiliated candidates or write-ins.