Asked about her
state of mind, Travis says, "I think she'll testify. That's just my
mother went last month to Carrboro, N.C., to meet famed Florida lawyer Willie
Gary, raising the possibility of a civil suit against the players or the
university, which purchased the lacrosse players' house just a month before the
party. (In response to neighbors' complaints about student drinking and
rowdiness in the Trinity Park district, the university has been buying up
fraternity houses and other student residences, with plans to rent them to
families.) Gary confirms that he met with the mother but will say only that he
has "not officially taken the case."
Back at the truck,
a thin black man approaches and tosses out his theory. "Everybody has their
opinions about this case: Fifty people are going to have 50 different versions
of the truth," he says. "People have to decide which version of the
truth they want to believe."
his daughter, and he resists the impulse to reduce the case to a simple matter
of race. From age seven, after his family's house was lost in a fire, he was
raised by a white family. He supported Nifong for reelection, but without
doesn't care anything about my daughter," Travis says. "All he cares
about is winning the case."
On April 12, three
weeks before the primary in his first run for district attorney, the
55-year-old Nifong, who in 2005 was appointed to complete the term of a D.A.
named to a judgeship, stood up at a candidates' forum to answer a question
about his handling of the lacrosse case. Two days before, the first set of DNA
tests, which Nifong had predicted would rule out the innocent and point to the
guilty, had come back with no matches. Defense lawyers crowed victory. Nifong
waved off the result, suggesting a condom could have been used, and vowed to
the other night said that if he were D.A., everybody would already be in
jail," Nifong said of Keith Bishop, one of his two opponents. "And
there was pressure put on me to do exactly that. And there was also pressure
put on me to do nothing, to say, 'Well, her profession was not really the most
honorable in the world, and we really don't have the strongest case in the
world if there's no DNA, so let's forget about it.' Well, ladies and gentlemen,
that's not doing your job. If I did that, then you should vote against me.
Because that's not what this job is about. The reason I took this case is
because this case says something about Durham that I'm not going to let be
said." His voice grew louder. "I am not going to allow Durham in the
mind of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black
girl in Durham!"
Later, outside the
gathering, Karen Bethea-Shields shook her head at what she'd heard.
Bethea-Shields is a Duke Law graduate and a lawyer of 32 years whose successful
1975 defense of Joan Little--a black woman accused of stabbing to death a white
jailer who she claimed sexually assaulted her--was as racially and sexually
charged a case as any in North Carolina in the last 30 years. "I have never
seen a D.A. come out like he's done in this case," she said of Nifong, who
had given a multitude of interviews after the case became public, declaring
even before the investigation was complete that he was sure a rape had
occurred. "I am appalled."
She was also
bothered by how race had become a factor in the case. "He made it an
issue," Bethea-Shields said. Recently, she pulled the file from a
first-degree rape case she had worked on. "The only thing on the warrant
and indictment was the female's name and age. Not a race. Not what school she
goes to. The elements of the crime are not is she black or white or green. So
you have to ask the question: Why was that important to bring up? You don't go
leaking a little bit here and a little bit there and get the community all
riled. We don't need to be any more at each other's throats than we already