RALEIGH, N.C. - There was DNA from at least four men on the body and underpants of a woman who said she was raped by three Duke lacrosse players - but none of it came from the men accused in the case, a DNA expert testified yesterday at the ethics hearing for Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong.
But DNA specialist Brian Meehan said he did not include that evidence in a report that he gave to Nifong for use at a hearing in the case, even though they had discussed the evidence and it might have helped exonerate the defendants.
"It was a poor judgment on my part," said Meehan. "But there was no specific reason or agenda."
The fact that Meehan clearly took responsibility for omitting information from his report and repeatedly said Nifong did not direct him to do it was a small victory for Nifong, who could be seen smiling and chuckling at several moments during his testimony.
Nifong's failure to turn over information about unidentified male DNA found on the exotic dancer who accused the lacrosse players of rape is one reason why the North Carolina State Bar Association has charged him with ethical violations. State Bar attorneys say Nifong, who was in the middle of a tense re-election campaign, exploited the case, in part to win the votes of Durham's black population. The accuser is black; the lacrosse players are white.
A disciplinary panel is hearing evidence in the matter this week in Raleigh and could take away his law license, which would cost him his office.
Joe Cheshire, a lawyer for David Evans, one of the three men accused in the case, said Meehan went against his own protocols by omitting the information, something he wouldn't have done unless he'd been directed to do so.
"They together conspired to withhold exculpatory evidence from the people who were charged," Cheshire said.
Meehan said he found no DNA from any of the men charged in the case on the exotic dancer, who performed at a team party in March 2006.
The three men charged in the case, Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City; Reade Seligmann, 21, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Evans, 24, of Bethesda, Md., were later declared innocent by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who took control of the case earlier this year amid an uproar over Nifong's tactics.
Seligmann, who has been subpoenaed to testify in the case, sat in the back row of the courtroom all day, his face betraying no emotion.
The lead investigator on the case, Benjamin Himan, also testified yesterday that he told Nifong that he'd learned the exotic dancer had a history of both bipolar disorder and drug use, and that she had accused others of raping her.