From 'pretty confident' to 'I apologize'

Then …

"I feel pretty confident a rape occurred."
-- Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, March 15, 2006.

"The circumstances of the rape indicated a deep racial motivation for some of the things that were done."
-- Nifong, March 27, 2006.

"That led to campus protests for the past three days, including a Saturday night candlelight vigil and a group of about 100 people banging pots and pans Sunday morning outside the home where the dancer said she was raped. One carried a sign that read, 'All rapes deserve outrage.'"
-- The Associated Press, March 28, 2006.

"I would like to think that somebody who was not in the bathroom has the human decency to call up and say, 'What am I doing covering up for a bunch of hooligans?' I'd like to be able to think that there were some people in that house that were not involved in this and were as horrified by it as the rest of us are."
-- Nifong, March 28, 2006.

"Surely the answer to the question must come in the form of immediate dismissals of those principally responsible for the horrors of this spring moment at Duke. Coaches of the lacrosse team, the team itself and its players, and any other agents who silenced or lied about the real nature of events at 610 Buchanan on the evening of March 13, 2006, a day that, not even in a cliched sense, will, indeed, always live in infamy for this university."
-- Then-Duke English professor Houston A. Baker Jr., in a letter to the Duke University administration, March 29, 2006. (Baker has since joined the Vanderbilt University faculty).

"I believe the accusations to be true, and their current and past behavior is a prime example of how the so-called 'privileged' think that because of their economic status and their … high-priced attorneys they can do and get away with whatever the heck they want to."
-- E-mailer 'Outraged Durham Resident' to Winston-Salem Journal, March 31, 2006.

"I'm not going to allow Durham's view in the minds of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players at Duke raping a black girl from Durham."
-- Nifong, April 12, 2006.

CNN's PAULA ZAHN: "Reverend Jackson joins me now.

"Always good to see you. You see the issue of race involved in this case. The -- the idea that white men hire black women to strip for them is -- quote -- 'That fantasy is as old as slave masters impregnating young slave girls.'

"Are you saying this alleged victim was raped because she was black?"

REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: "There's a race/sex/class intrigue in the situation.

"And the idea of white males fantasizing about black women is -- is quite old, quite -- and quite ugly, and now quite illegal. And that's why we really want the truth to be told. We want justice served. And we want the law to serve as a -- as a deterrent."

ZAHN: "But, Reverend Jackson, one of the attorneys representing the captain of the lacrosse team says that, in saying what you're saying tonight, you're pandering to race. You're race-baiting, because there's no evidence that any of these players specifically asked for a black stripper."

JACKSON: "Well, that's what they got and that's what they paid for.

"You know, it's -- it's -- it's alarming to me, astonishing, really, after 254 years of legal slavery, 100 years of legal Jim Crow. I grew up in that system. I knew what that system -- what it means. They -- they knew what they got.

"And we know that they were watching this naked woman, who is a -- an exotic dancer, a former person in the Navy, a mother of two, who exposed her body to make money, to take care of her children and go to college. So, she's not just a stripper, but, really, a person, who they are now about to diminish into a non-person. That's why she's afraid. She's in hiding now.

"And these guys were out of control. Of the 47, 15 in this past year have been arrested for everything from disorderly conduct to public urination."

ZAHN: "But the alleged victim has a criminal history as well. Do you believe everything this alleged victim has said?"

JACKSON: "No, I do -- I -- I … "

ZAHN: "Do you think she's telling the truth?"

JACKSON: "I do not know her.

"But what I -- at these parties, you -- there are these sexual arousal dimensions there, the drinking dimensions. And, so, I don't know what all happened."
-- CNN transcript, April 17, 2006.

"It's not just a high-profile, controversial case. It's a high-profile, controversial case occurring in the middle of an election. It raises all sorts of legal, cultural questions, not to mention the human cost."
-- University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt to USA Today, April 19, 2006.

"It's a perfect storm. It involves race, privilege. … It involves arrogance, sex, athletes, the South."
-- Duke law professor James Coleman to NBC, April 2006.

"I am innocent. Reade Seligmann is innocent. Collin Finnerty is innocent. Every member of the Duke lacrosse team is innocent. You have all been told some fantastic lies, and I look forward to watching them unravel in the weeks to come."
-- David Evans, after being charged with rape, sexual offense and kidnapping, May 15, 2006.

"Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong on Tuesday won a bitter political battle over his handling of the Duke University lacrosse rape case. He next must fight the case in a courtroom.

"With all but provisional ballots counted, Nifong, a Democrat, had 49 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results."
-- Raleigh News & Observer, Nov. 8, 2006.

"The district attorney dropped rape charges Friday against three former Duke University lacrosse players after the stripper who accused them changed her story again. But the men still face kidnapping and sex charges that could bring more than 30 years in prison."
-- The Associated Press, Dec. 22, 2006.

Now …
"The result of our review and investigation shows clearly that there is insufficient evidence to proceed on any of the charges.

"… In this case, with the weight of the state behind him, the Durham district attorney pushed forward unchecked. There were many points in the case where caution would have served justice better than bravado. And in the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly. Regardless of the reasons this case was pushed forward, the result was wrong. Today, we need to learn from this and keep it from happening again to anybody."
-- North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, April 11, 2007.

"To the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused."
-- Nifong, April 12, 2007

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.