Raleigh, N.C. — The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a ruling that dismissed the case against Derrick Michael Allen, a Durham man who spent 12 years in prison for the murder and sexual assault of a toddler.
The appeals court concluded that Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson erred when he threw out Allen’s case in 2010. Hudson had agreed with the defense's contention that the State Bureau of Investigation violated Allen’s rights by not sharing everything it found in blood tests.
But in his opinion, Appeals Court Judge Sam Ervin IV sided with prosecutors, who said the trial court made certain findings of fact without adequate evidence and was wrong to conclude Allen's constitutional rights were violated.
Allen's case was among 200 cases that an outside audit said were mishandled by the SBI. The audit revealed agents failed to report correct blood evidence in the cases.
In his opinion Monday, Ervin emphasized that his decision should not be mistaken for an approval of how the state gathered its evidence.
"On the contrary, we share the trial court's displeasure with the manner in which the blood testing results were disclosed to the defendant and the manner in which aspects of the prosecution of this case have been handled," Ervin wrote. "Even so, given our inability to discern any legal basis for the sanction imposed in the trial court's order, we are obligated to reverse it."
The appeals court has remanded the case back to Durham County Superior Court.
Allen is in jail in Randolph County on unrelated charges.
Allen was charged in 1998 in the death and sexual assault of his then-girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter. According to court documents, Allen was baby-sitting the child when he called 911, telling authorities the girl was unresponsive. Emergency personnel arrived to find the toddler had no pulse and what appeared to be blood on the inside leg of her sleepsuit.
An autopsy showed the girl died of shaken baby syndrome.
Interim District Attorney Leon Stanback said the appeals court decision is appropriate and he hopes there can now be justice for the victim.
Stanback was a judge in Superior Court when he sentenced Allen on an Alford plea. An Alford plea does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence for a jury to reach a guilty verdict.
Stanback said he has asked the Attorney General's Office whether there is any conflict of interest with his handling the case. He will also likely get an opinion from the State Bar Association.