RALEIGH, N.C. — People keeping close tabs on how North Carolina's State Crime Laboratory is operating after a stinging audit three years ago that found fault in blood-testing analysis say the lab has made great strides rebuilding confidence.
But lab director Joe John says limited resources have hindered efforts.
He told an advisory board of forensic experts Tuesday that, while the legislature approved funding to plan a new laboratory in western North Carolina that officials say is desperately needed, no money has been earmarked to pay for the nearly $17 million lab.
Lawmakers also approved money for 19 new toxicologists but no new DNA analysts, he said, adding that the low salaries the lab can offer has limited who they can hire.
Eighteen toxicologists have left the crime lab in the past year, with half citing low pay as their reason for leaving, John said.
"Help is on the way – the cavalry is coming – but that won't help for a significant period of time," he said. "We're going to still have to deal with the challenges for at least a year and probably longer."
Each year, the State Crime Laboratory receives evidence to be tested from approximately 35,000 cases from the state's 600 law enforcement agencies.
About 7,000 cases are waiting for toxicology testing at the lab, John said. He declined to call it a backlog, saying simply that it's where they are at this point given the staff they have.
John said a new lab would help process the cases. He plans to ask for funding for the project in the next session of the General Assembly.
The crime laboratory audit three years ago followed the release of Greg Taylor – who spent 17 years behind bars for a Raleigh murder that he didn't commit – and called for the thorough examination of 190 criminal cases with blood-testing issues. The audit covered cases from 1987 to 2003.
Advisory board chairman Peter Marone says the lab has received international accreditation and eligible scientists there have achieved independent certification.