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Outside review backs SBI ballistics lab in disputed case

Posted December 30, 2010

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— An independent review of evidence from a Pitt County murder case supports the findings of ballistics experts at the State Bureau of Investigation, according to a report released Thursday.

Pitt County District Attorney Clark Everett requested the review after published reports this summer questioned the validity of SBI findings in the 2006 conviction of Jemaul Raoul Green in the shooting death of a 10-year-old boy in Ayden.

Green claimed during his trial that someone else fired the fatal shot, but SBI forensic firearms analyst Beth Desmond testified that the evidence found at the scene pointed to a single gunman.

Stephen Bunch, former chief of the Firearms and Tool Mark Unit of the FBI Forensic Laboratory, recently reviewed the evidence and reached the same conclusions as Desmond. In both analyses, eight shell casings were determined to have been fired by the same 9 mm handgun, but no definitive conclusion could be made about two bullet fragments found at the scene of the shooting, although they showed similar characteristics.

"We are encouraged by that. We continue to welcome scrutiny and are certainly open to criticism," SBI Director Greg McLeod said Thursday.

Dave Sutton, one of the defense attorneys in Green's trial, said he doesn't view Bunch's report as conclusive that all of the bullets came from one gun. He also noted that Desmond testified at trial that there was a conclusive match on all of the bullets, casings and fragments.

McLeod said Bunch's review looked strictly at the analysis provided by the ballistics unit. He also said the SBI crime lab now asks that judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys evaluate analysts' trial testimony.

Everett said he was satisfied with Bunch's report, saying it agrees with the theory that there was no second shooter in the Green case. Defense attorneys are now trying to attack Desmond's testimony because they can no longer question the credibility of her work, he said.

ballistics lab Outside review backs SBI ballistics lab in disputed case

The questions surrounding the SBI's ballistics analysis came in the wake of a critical outside audit of the SBI's blood-stain analysis unit. The audit found 190 cases that resulted in convictions from 1987 to 2003 in which analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported information about blood evidence.

Following that audit, Attorney General Roy Cooper removed the director of the SBI crime lab and ordered audits of every section of the lab. Those audits are still going on, and a special panel that Cooper appointed is conducting a national search for a new crime lab director.

Some critics have questioned the value of ballistic testing for years. The National Academy of Sciences, for example, says more research is needed to prove the science before definite matches between firearms and their bullets can be made.

"That's something that the entire forensic science community continues to look at and make sure that information that is presented is presented in a way that folks understand it and can weigh it appropriately," McLeod said.

Ballistics testing has a place in the crime lab, he said, citing the case of Samuel Cooper, who was convicted of killing five men in Wake County 2006 and 2007. Investigators used a gun seized after a robbery to link him to the murders.

McLeod said the SBI is working to improve the ballistics unit by having cameras photograph what analysts see under the microscope and add those photos to case files.


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  • disgusted2010 Dec 30, 2010

    This is not the first time the News and Observer has lied and skewed "facts" to write a story. Their M.O. is to form a conclusion, interview "experts" (usually incompetents or malcontents) and fill in the gaps with innuendo and often downright lies. Their hatred of law enforcement is well known and now they filling their rag with rerun stories in a pitiful attempt to influence the reactionary governor and legislature to cut law enforcement. It is time that those who have been libeled and slandered over the past few years to band together and sue the scandal rage into oblivion.

  • marshall4003 Dec 30, 2010

    I sincerely hope the News and Observer, which deserves tremendous thanks for its excellent investigative reporting, will give this good coverage. Understandably, morale at the SBI is very low right now and it needs to be recognized that they are still, for the most part, an excellent, competent law enforcement agency.

  • FE Dec 30, 2010

    So does this mean that journalists Mandy Locke and Joe Neff now might have to wait a bit to receive a Pulitzer Prize for their "excellent" fact-finding roles in reporting this and other anti-SBI stories ???

  • wayneuber Dec 30, 2010

    The N&O is a mouthpiece for convicted felons and those who represent them (trial lawyers). They merely report the facts that they want to and ignore what doesn't suit their agenda. They repeat what defense attorneys imagine until it sounds like the truth.

  • workouttime Dec 30, 2010

    Who has a political agenda to discredit law enforcement? Maybe someone needs to take a look at the Innocence Inquiry Commission. Of 756 cases, only 1 person was exonerated, with only 4 under investigation. How many other states have this type of commission? Is this a wise use of funds? Investigate that, Mandy Locke!

  • twyss55 Dec 30, 2010

    "Junk Science".....how about "Junk Journalism". The N&O needs to admit that this smear campaign is really about getting rid of the death penalty. Not exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff here Joe and Mandy.

  • dogstimestwo Dec 30, 2010

    still waiting for the news and disturber to post this story..

  • didisaythat Dec 30, 2010

    Didn't know the ballistics lab was being questioned also. Just more people with an agenda. Why are there so many that want the criminals to get a way with crimes. Why not back the agencies that are trying to make this area safe? why do so many people like it when a criminal gets off on a charge because of a loophole? Are there that many people that can relate to murderers and rapist than police officers these days?
    The cases with the blood evidence is so off base it is pathetic. The cases are not using the blood to convict the criminals but becuase of the policies and procedures in place some defense attorneys are going to try and profit over this and society is falling for it becuase they love to see people beat the system.

  • bluegrass Dec 30, 2010

    Now try unringing that bell N&O

  • lawdogzwife Dec 30, 2010


    Glad to see there is at least one other person (besides me and my husband) that know what a terrible job the News and Disturber did with that information.

    If someone in the SBI would have a little moxy and stand up to them, none of this junk would have gone on and we wouldn't be paying form more worthless lawsuits and trials for the criminals.