The perfect instruments for picking the wrongfully prosecuted blues hit the auction block Sunday at a court-ordered sale of former Durham district attorney Mike Nifong's guitars.
The disbarred prosecutor's three guitars fetched a total of $5,100 in less than half an hour of bidding at an auction house as a giant statue of Daniel Boone looked on.
The auction attracted curious onlookers and bidders in person, by phone and online.
Many were musicians or collectors. Not surprisingly, though, non- musical motives also abounded because of the controversy over the Duke lacrosse case that ultimately resulted in Nifong being forced from office and disbarred.
“There are one or two people I know who would buy one to go out in the parking lot and smash it to pieces,” said Bob Panoff, a former high school lacrosse coach who has followed the case closely and attended Sunday's auction.
Nifong filed for bankruptcy Jan. 15, the day he was to respond to a lawsuit by three former Duke lacrosse players. Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann accuse Nifong, Durham police and others of malicious prosecution stemming from gang-rape allegations against them that were ultimately found to be false.
The federal judge presiding over Nifong's bankruptcy case ordered the public auction.
Before the auction, there was speculation that Nifong's friends would buy the guitars to return to him on permanent loan. Others expected a bidding war between Nifong's supporters and detractors.
But Mike Rawlins, an online dealer from Winston-Salem, said the Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 electric guitar he picked up was worth the $2,000 he paid – maybe more, thanks to its infamous owner.
“I didn't buy it for that reason, but I'll use that when I sell it,” said Rawlins, noting he'll wait for the court paperwork certifying the guitar's source before listing it in his online store. “It might be worth something to someone.”
One winning bidder who took home Nifong's Martin D-41 acoustic guitar refused to identify himself.
Another left abruptly after making the highest bid on the former prosecutor's Fender Deluxe Nashville Telecaster electric guitar. But Norman Caine, who frequents the auction house, identified him as a regular bidder there.
Caine said the high-profile instruments may have drawn a gaggle of TV cameras, but not much more of a crowd than usual at the Cindy Smith auction house, which holds auctions at least twice a month.
“It's just run of the mill, maybe a little less,” he said.