DURHAM -- They've run off one public defender,
been chastised by a new defense attorney and faced a threat of jail time
by a judge.
the Friends of Crystal Mangum insist they're on her side, trying to
protect her from a corrupt judicial system that they say aims to punish
her for accusing three Duke lacrosse players of rape four years ago.
Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded there was no rape, and former
District Attorney Mike Nifong lost his law license over it, but the
Friends believe Mangum's story.
Now facing multiple felony charges
related to a domestic violence call Feb. 17, Mangum is free on $100,000
bail. Her trial is scheduled to begin as early as Monday.
say Mangum scratched and punched her boyfriend, Milton Walker, and
damaged his car. She also took Walker's clothes, placed them in a
bathtub and lit them on fire - with him, her three children and two
police officers still in the home, according to arrest warrants. Mangum
declined to comment for this story but has denied the charges.
Clark, Mangum's publicist, said she had complained about Walker's
behavior earlier in the day and that Walker was the aggressor. Clark
said that when officers realized she was the Duke lacrosse accuser, they
focused on her. "She did go kind of bananas when the cops were taking
her away, but I would have, too, if a man was attacking me and I'm the
one that's going to jail," he said.
Citizens and lawyers
police charged her with attempted murder, and a judge set bail at $1
million. Now facing lesser charges, Mangum eventually lost the right to
have contact with her children because of pre-trial release violations.
almost like a form of lynching, what's happened to her," said Myra
Kinderknecht of Fayetteville, a Friends member. "Everything that has
happened to her screams white power, black oppression."
own defense lawyers say such strident claims only complicate her
criminal case. Steven Kohn, a leading expert on political prisoners,
said the U.S. Constitution invites citizen activism, but the pretrial
publicity it generates often hurts a defendant.
"The law has very
constrained procedures that the general public or citizen activist
groups won't understand or won't respect," he said. "The citizens are
frustrated that the lawyer is being a lawyer and not an activist, and
the lawyer is frustrated that the citizens don't understand the law."
members carried out similar advocacy for murder convicts Michael
Peterson in Durham and James Johnson in Wilson. Kohn said citizens
defense committees have a long history in the United States, from the
American Civil Liberties Union, which formed to protect conscientious
objectors during World War I, to the citizens who supported O.J.
Simpson's defense in Los Angeles.
The Friends of Crystal Mangum is
an offshoot of another group, the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong,
the district attorney who prosecuted the Duke lacrosse players. Friends
founder Douglas Register said authorities are persecuting Mangum to
further discredit her and help their defense in a civil lawsuit brought
by all 38 lacrosse players against Duke and the city of Durham..
conviction] might possibly allow the city to settle for a lower
amount," he said. "The families might be appeased. It might close the
The Friends accuse Mangum's attorneys of pressuring her to plead guilty. Clayton Jones, her former lawyer, said that's not true.
Attorney Mani Dexter, appointed by the public defender's office because of Mangum's indigence, declined to comment.
has gone before judges several times this year, adjusting the
conditions of her pre-trial release. Each time, members of the Friends
or the associated Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong have been there,
often addressing the judges directly, much to the chagrin of Mangum's
"No one in the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong has
ever even been to a day of law school," said Jones, an assistant public
defender. "They've watched a lot of TV - Law & Order, CSI - and
think that that's how we practice law in the state of North Carolina."
'Out of order'
a break in a hearing in late August, when Superior Court Judge Milton
Fitch was preparing to deal with an unrelated case, Friends member and
Nifong supporter Victoria Peterson tried to speak to him across the
waist-high wall that divides the courtroom.
"No, ma'am," Fitch said sternly. "You're out of order right now. That matter is not before me."
Fitch asked how long it would take a witness to retrieve a file from
his office across the street from the courthouse, Peterson spoke up.
"He's talking to you," Peterson told the man, who had not immediately answered the judge.
you are not a lawyer, and you are not a party to this case," Fitch
said. "If I hear one more outburst out of you, I'm going to send you to
the Durham County jail."
Since then, the Friends have put forth a
hand-written confession from Walker saying he set his own clothes on
fire, and filed a complaint with Durham County Department Social
Services for telling a pre-trial release officer that Mangum's children
had been living with her against a judge's order.
"You have no
idea what impact these things will have on Crystal's case," Dexter
chided the Friends in an e-mail. "When you take the consideration ...
out of the equation, you make a mess."
One lawyer down
Conflict with the Friends drove assistant public defender Clayton Jones off the case in July.
said his first interactions with the Friends were positive. But
eventually he told them to stop calling after they started demanding
evidence from Mangum's case file.
"They wanted information that
they were not privileged to," Jones said. "We would discuss pertinent
matters with her case, and she would literally walk right out the door
... and give them her whole discovery."
This past summer, after
the Friends held a press conference at Mangum's house, Jones told Mangum
that if she didn't like his advice, she should find a new lawyer. The
next week, she asked a judge to appoint a new one.
Jones said the Friends are taking advantage of Mangum.
are in my opinion using Crystal Mangum's name and all the things
associated with her to promote their own agenda," he said.
single ideology unites the Friends, so it's unclear exactly why they've
coalesced around Mangum or why they don't trust her lawyers. The Duke
lacrosse case is the latest in a long line of causes taken up by members
of the Nifong committee and the Friends.
Victoria Peterson is a
failed candidate for public office. She has protested abortion clinics,
and railed against causes ranging from urban chickens to homosexuality.
She is best known as an advocate for jobs and work skills for inner-city
Register said he got involved in the lacrosse case because
he has suffered from mental illness and felt the players' defense
lawyers had exploited Mangum's illness in attacking her story. He also
felt critics had slandered N.C. Central University, an alma mater he and
Mangum share. Register has fought publicly against Jewish menorahs on
city property and a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit because it might support
"Any high-profile case attracts people
to that case who might have other agendas. That is a fact," Register
said. "[The Friends] are community activists. They believe that there is
an inequity, that there is an unevenness in justice."
who knows Friends member Steven Matherly through their work together
with the progressive Durham People's Alliance, called the Mangum
"Even though I have sympathy for Ms. Mangum
and Mr. Nifong," Pyne said, "I don't know how getting involved in that
issue at this late date would help me or the cause of progressive
politics in Durham."
But Michael Page, who as Durham County
Commissioners chair has often encountered Peterson and Register, doesn't
fault the Friends for trying to help Mangum.
"The lady has gone
through a whole lot in the past few years," he said. "It's a
humanitarian evidently stepping out to make sure she gets treated
fairly. I don't think anybody's trying to hurt anybody in this process,
but I think they're just trying to make sure that she gets justice."