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AG orders outside review of SBI crime lab

Posted March 5, 2010

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— Attorney General Roy Cooper on Friday ordered an outside review of State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab, focusing on cases and practices from the early 1990s and current methods.

The move follows the disclosure last month that SBI analysts reported only positive results of blood evidence in the early 1990s and didn't routinely tell prosecutors and defense attorneys when follow-up results on the evidence were negative.

"An outside review is important for the integrity of the process and public confidence in the work of the SBI lab," Cooper said.

Cooper asked Chris Swecker and Mike Wolf, both former FBI assistant directors, to head up the review. They will examine the state lab’s historic practice and policy on disclosure of lab analyses, as well as its internal methods and reporting of scientific analysis.

Swecker is a former FBI special agent-in-charge for North Carolina and served as executive assistant director in charge of nine FBI divisions, including the science and forensic lab division.

Wolf, who has a master's degree in forensic science, served as FBI special agent-in-charge for Connecticut and as assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group. He led an inspection team brought in to fix problems at the FBI crime lab in 1998-99.

The outside review will run at the same time as an internal SBI review of practices and policies at the crime lab.

Last month, during a hearing dealing with the innocence case of Gregory Taylor, SBI Agent Duane Deaver testified that it was agency policy in 1993 to report that evidence showed an indication for the presence of blood, even when follow-up tests were negative.

Deaver said he left those negative results in his bench notes and didn't tell the prosecutor. He said he would have explained the conflicting results if he had testified at Taylor's trial.

Had the information been available to defense attorneys, Taylor, who had his life sentence vacated by a special three-judge panel, might not have been convicted.

"Clearly, I was concerned about what I heard, and if there were any deficiencies in the crime lab, then or now, then they have to be fixed," Cooper said.

One of Taylor's attorneys praised Cooper's decision.

"An independent review is the only type of review that can give the public confidence," said Chris Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.

Taylor also agreed that an outside audit was needed.

"I believe that, if people are calling that crime lab into question, then there is a need to have an audit of those records (and) it should be done independently," he said Friday. "I would hope that the problem is not as big as maybe it possibly could be, but I think it's important to find out how big it is."

State law now requires the SBI and other law enforcement agencies to turn over all notes to ensure that all information is shared with both the prosecution and defense.

Analysts’ lab reports and bench notes are now electronically available to prosecutors, officials said. SBI officials are talking with prosecutors statewide to ensure that they are accessing the information needed in criminal cases.

15 Comments

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  • John Sawtooth Mar 8, 2010

    Essentially the SBI's policy was to withold evidence. I think that must be a violation of the defendant's constitutional civil rights, and those who created that policy need to be held accountable and charged with that crime.

  • urbizn Mar 5, 2010

    Deaver, Ford, and Willoughby all belong in jail.

  • Suasponte Mar 5, 2010

    Cover up!! These are FORMER FBI agents. They carry no authority. Decisions will still rest with state authorities. If Cooper wanted the real truth, he'd ask US Attorney Holding to have REAL FBI agents investigate. So why didn't he? Because Districts Attorneys and their assistants enjoy absolute immunity from prosecution at the state level. They do not enjoy this abused privilege at the federal level.

    Expect to see several mid and upper lever "retirements" in the next week or so. You'll know who to blame.

  • WHEEL Mar 5, 2010

    It's always been an "old boy network". Just look at the officer shooting investigations. Only this time someone broke the thin blue line and talked!

  • tatermommy52 Mar 5, 2010

    The whole system was under the Democrats. Dont we feel safe from the criminals or from false prosecution.

  • burnhace Mar 5, 2010

    The lab shouldn't be accountable to the police, the police should be accountable to the lab.

  • Dark_Horse Mar 5, 2010

    If this were to happen nationwide, alot of people would be released...and charged.

  • Earth Brooks Mar 5, 2010

    "Deaver said he left those negative results in his bench notes and didn't tell the prosecutor. He said he would have explained the conflicting results if he had testified at Taylor's trial."

    Hmmmmm.....Ford did'nt know the follow-up results were negative, huh? I doubt it.

  • harbinger0fd00m Mar 5, 2010

    They are just being good state workers, we have a budget shortfall. Sending negative results would require postage. I mean come on sending out extra mail (usually 10-12 months later) is saving the state tens of dollars!

  • Tater Salad Returns Mar 5, 2010

    An outside review is long over due in this state where the justice system is a good ole' boy system.

    I'm interested to see what it brings and how accountability for immoral, unethical, and potentially illegal actions will be swept under the rug by the big wigs at the top of the SBI

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