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Nifong held in criminal contempt by judge, sentenced to day in jail

  • Story Highlights
  • The former district attorney must report to jail September 7
  • A disciplinary committee disbarred Nifong in June for handling of Duke case
  • Three lacrosse players initially were accused of raping a woman during a party
  • All charges against the players were dropped in April
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(CNN) -- Embattled former district attorney Mike Nifong was held in criminal contempt of court and sentenced to one day in jail Friday for his actions in the flawed Duke lacrosse team rape case.

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Mike Nifong walks into the courtroom during his criminal contempt hearing in Durham, North Carolina, on Friday.

Nifong must report to jail September 7, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III said.

The judge said Nifong's withholding of DNA evidence from defense attorneys was an affront to the integrity of the judicial system.

The evidence potentially would have cleared the three lacrosse players of sexual assault charges months before North Carolina's attorney general dropped them in April.

The players initially were accused of raping an exotic dancer during a party last year.

The specific evidence Nifong was accused of withholding was that DNA profiles found on the alleged rape victim were from unidentified males, but did not match any of the 46 lacrosse team members.

He also was accused of telling the court in a September 22 hearing that a lab report contained complete information on DNA test results, when it omitted that information.

Attorneys for the players contend Nifong became aware of the test results in April 2006, but collaborated with the director of the lab conducting the tests to produce a report that did not contain all the test results.

Nifong also made "multiple material misrepresentations to multiple courts on multiple occasions," the motion says. The defense team did not learn of the results until October.

"The court expects, and well it should, to be able to rely on the representation of lawyers," Smith told Nifong.

Earlier Friday, Nifong testified in his defense, saying he and the lab director had agreed not to put the players' DNA profiles in the report out of privacy concerns, but said he thought the lab report was in fact complete when it was not. He acknowledged, however, that he had not read the report in its entirety before making the claim in court.

"All the statements that I made to the court ... I believed to be true," Nifong testified.

He said it was his practice when prosecuting cases to turn over all his information to defense attorneys, regardless of whether it would help or hurt a defendant.

"There was no reason not to," he said. "If there was a piece of evidence that helped the defendant, you had to turn that over anyway. If it was a piece of evidence that hurt the defendant, why not turn it over? Because he might realize at that point that it was in his best interest to take a plea."

Before Nifong was sentenced, another Superior Court judge, former Durham County District Attorney Ron Stephens, testified on his behalf.

"I always felt like I could take him at his word, his word was his bond," Stephens said. "Basically, if he told you something, you could take it to the bank."

A disciplinary committee of the North Carolina State Bar disbarred Nifong in June, concluding after a hearing that he violated the majority of at least 19 ethics offenses in his handling of the case.

The allegations against the players forced the cancellation of the Duke lacrosse team's season and cost coach Mike Pressler his job. The case also inflamed racial tensions in Durham. The three players are white, while the alleged victim is black.

The three players -- David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty -- initially were charged with first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sexual offense after a team party in March 2006.

An initial charge of first-degree forcible rape was dropped in December 2006 after the players' accuser told prosecutors she could no longer say for certain that she had been penetrated with a penis -- one of the defining factors of rape under North Carolina law. The DNA issue also was a factor in eliminating the charge.

In April, state Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all charges against the three, saying the case was a result of Nifong's "rush to accuse." Nifong had asked Cooper to assign a special prosecutor to the case after the state bar filed its complaint against him. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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