After Long Duke Case, Debate Over Fairness Is Renewed With 'Jena 6'


This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Thousands of protesters from around the United States marched this week in the small town of Jena, Louisiana. They came in support of six black teenagers arrested for the beating of a white student at Jena High School in December. This followed racial incidents at the school that led to fights between whites and blacks.

No white students faced charges. But five of the so-called Jena Six were charged at first with attempted murder. Since then, many of the charges have been reduced. The case remains in court.

This case, with its questions of fairness, comes after another case in the South that produced a strong emotional reaction. The case of three white students falsely accused of raping a black woman is the subject of a book published this month.

The book is called "Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case." The authors, Stuart Taylor and K. C. Johnson, examine what they see as failings by the legal system and the media.

In March of last year, Crystal Mangum told police that several Duke University lacrosse players raped her. She and another woman had been hired to dance and take off their clothes at a team party.

The case in Durham, North Carolina, gained attention not just because of the accusations. It also involved issues of race and economic class.

Three lacrosse players were arrested: David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. In the American legal system, suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty. But the local prosecutor, Mike Nifong, called the players "hooligans" and seemed to leave no question about their guilt. He spoke often to the media.

A number of Duke professors and students were also quick to publicly judge them. Duke cancelled the rest of the men's lacrosse season and the team coach resigned.

Yet Crystal Mangum changed her story several times and evidence conflicted with her claims. Also, she was reported to have struggled with mental health problems.

Critics say Mike Nifong used the case against the players from a costly, top university as a way to appeal to black voters. The white prosecutor was campaigning for a new term as district attorney.

But in January he withdrew from the case. A state agency later found that he lied to a court and violated other rules of professional behavior in the case. He lost his right to practice law and spent a day in jail earlier this month.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared the three players innocent in April. He also said it would be in the best interest of justice not to bring charges against their accuser.

The young men have threatened to bring a civil rights case against the city of Durham for their treatment by police. They reportedly are seeking ten million dollars each in a settlement that would also call for legal reforms.

On Wednesday, Duke announced it will invest more than one million dollars to create a new law center. The purpose: to train lawyers to fight wrongful charges.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.