ABC News

Judge Finds Duke Prosecutor in Contempt

Duke Lacrosse Prosecutor Nifong Found in Contempt for Lying; Sentenced to Day in Jail

Attorney Ann Petersen, right, puts her arm around former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong following sentencing in his criminal contempt hearing in Durham, N.C., Friday, Aug. 31, 2007. The former prosecutor who led the now-discredited Duke lacrosse rape case was convicted and will spend one day in jail. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) 
The Associated Press

The prosecutor who led the now-discredited rape case against three Duke University lacrosse players was held in criminal contempt of court Friday for lying to a judge when pursuing charges against the athletes.

Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III sentenced Mike Nifong to a day in jail. The former Durham County district attorney, who was already stripped of his law license and had resigned from office, had faced as many as 30 days.

"If what I impose with regard to Mr. Nifong would make things better or different for what's already happened, I don't know what it would be or how I could do it," Smith said.

Nifong showed no visible reaction when Smith handed down the sentence, and he left the courtroom with his wife, Cy Gurney.

Reading his decision from the bench minutes after the end of two days of testimony, Smith said Nifong "willfully made false statements" in September when he insisted he had given the defense all results from a critical DNA test.

Smith found that Nifong had provided the defense with a DNA testing report that he knew to be incomplete. The omitted data contained test results showing that DNA of multiple men, none of whom were lacrosse players, was on the accuser.

Smith said his decision was aimed at "protecting and preserving the integrity of the court and its processes." He said truthfulness is especially important when it comes to the rights of the accused to a fair trial.

When Nifong reports to jail at 9 a.m. next Friday, it will bring an end to the criminal case that began when a woman told police she was raped at a March 2006 party thrown by Duke's lacrosse team.

The team was initially vilified as Nifong in his first political campaign for district attorney told voters he wouldn't allow Durham to become known for "a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl."

Nifong went on to win indictments against three players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans. But as the case against them progressed, it became clear Nifong's evidence was pitifully weak.

Judge Finds Duke Prosecutor in Contempt
Talk Back
Discuss and Debate
Discuss this topic with the ABC News Community