As a criminal lawyer, Durham resident, and Duke alumnus, I followed the Duke lacrosse case with more than a casual interest. Now, years after the fact, there’s a new book about it. The Price of Silence, by William D. Cohen, is available on Amazon for about $25. It purports to be “the definitive, magisterial account of what happens when the most combustible forces in American culture— unbridled ambition, intellectual elitism, athletic prowess, aggressive sexual behavior, racial bias, and absolute prosecutorial authority—collide and then explode on a powerful university campus, in the justice system, and in the media.”
Like the case itself, the book is controversial and divisive. It has received some very positive reviews, both from readers on Amazon and from the press. Publisher’s Weekly describes it as “[t]op-notch investigative journalism,” and Kirkus liked the book as well. But the book also has quite a few detailed one-star reviews, and local media sources, perhaps more familiar with the facts of the case, are less effusive than the national press. The News and Observer reports here that the book is based largely on the author’s interviews with former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, whose perspective on the case is presented “at length and virtually unchallenged.” The newspaper then challenges one of Nifong’s claim, namely, his suggestion that Attorney General Roy Cooper’s decision to declare the defendants “innocent” was without the support of the long-time prosecutors who reviewed the case for Cooper. The story quotes one of those prosecutors, Jim Coman, as saying that he was insistent about the players’ innocence and that Nifong’s “characterizations are figments of his imagination.”
I don’t think I’ll read the book. The case was riveting as it unfolded and I was outraged by some of the events that took place. But that feeling has faded with the passage of time. It appears that justice eventually was done, thanks to the excellent work of the defense lawyers involved in the case and to the courage of the Attorney General’s office. For me, what remains is mostly sadness about the damage that the principal complaining witness did to others, to the community, and ultimately to herself. In that vein, the New York Times has a mixed review here, from a reporter who covered the case. His parting thought contrasts the fate of the defendants, who settled with Duke for millions of dollars and went on to professional careers, with that of the complainant, who went on to prison after being convicted of murdering her boyfriend.
The book’s author says that “[t]here are people who don’t want to revisit this [case].” I suppose that I am one of them. But as the New York Daily News put it, for those who do want to dig back in, this book presents an opportunity to do so.