State News

Outside review finds flaws in 190 SBI prosecutions

Posted August 18, 2010
Updated August 19, 2010

— Analysts at North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation crime lab omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in dozens of cases, including three that ended in executions, according to an independent review released Wednesday.

The government-ordered report by two former FBI officials found that SBI agents repeatedly aided prosecutors in obtaining convictions over a 16-year period, mostly by misrepresenting blood evidence and keeping critical notes from defense attorneys.

It calls for a thorough examination of blood evidence in 190 criminal cases from 1987 to 2003, stating that, at times, “information that may have been material and even favorable to the defense of an accused defendant was withheld or misrepresented.”

"No one should conclude that someone has been wrongfully convicted," said one of the review's authors, Chris Swecker, at a news conference Wednesday.

The review of more than 15,000 case files by Swecker and Mike Wolf, both former assistant FBI directors, found 230 cases in which eight SBI analysts filed incomplete reports. In 40 of the cases, no suspect was ever charged.

Swecker emphasized that the standard of review was very broad. In some cases, he said, there were hundreds of items tested where only one instance of a negative or inconclusive result wasn't reported.

Neither he nor Wolf looked to see if the evidence was introduced at trial.

Chris Swecker Web only: Results of outside SBI review

"There's a lot of material to look at – district attorney files, (whether) the lab notes were handed over, (whether) the item was introduced into evidence," Swecker said.

Both recommend that prosecutors and defense lawyers need to check whether tainted lab reports helped lead to confessions or pleas.

"I firmly believe, in the interest of justice, that the full case files in each of these cases should be reviewed by both prosecutors and appropriate defense counsel to determine if any of these cases should be reopened," Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

Cooper ordered the review in March after SBI agent Duane Deaver testified in the February innocence case of Gregory Taylor that the crime lab once had a policy of excluding complete blood test results from reports offered to defense attorneys before trials.

Attorney General Roy Cooper Web only: Attorney general's response to SBI review

Deaver’s testimony led to Taylor's exoneration after he served nearly 17 years in prison for first-degree murder.

Gregory S. McLeod, the director of the SBI, said Deaver was on leave with pay from the agency while the investigation was being completed.

Besides the executions, the report urged a closer look at the cases of four people on death row and one whose death sentence was commuted to life.

The cases also include the 1993 murder of James Jordan, father of NBA star Michael Jordan, who was sleeping in his car along a highway when he was killed.

Two men were sentenced to life in prison. The review states an SBI analyst reported that an examination of the scene indicated the presence of blood but didn’t say that four subsequent tests were inconclusive.

The report blames the flaws on “poorly crafted policy, inattention to reporting methods which permitted too much analyst subjectivity; and ineffective management and oversight.”

The lab’s operations have changed substantially since 2003, when it began using more modern blood testing. Prosecutors also now have online access to all lab files, and can make them available to defense attorneys.

Among the report’s recommendations are: automation of historical lab files; posting of lab policies on a public website; and the appointment of an ombudsman to review lab issues or mistakes.

Cooper said that his longtime legislative liaison, who was sworn in last week as SBI director, has already been working on implementing the recommendations.

"This report is troubling. It describes a practice that should have been unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now," Cooper said. "There is clearly work to do. The lab cannot accept a lack of thoroughness. It cannot accept attitudes that are not open to the possibility that a mistake has been made. It cannot ignore criticisms and suggestions from the outside."

Review finds flaws in SBI prosecutions Officials react to review of SBI prosecutions

James Coleman, a professor of law at Duke University, said the impact of the report stretches far beyond individual cases.

“I think the justice system took a big hit in this review, and I think the trust that the public had in this agency has been destroyed,” Coleman said.

A long-time critic of the agency, Coleman also said the SBI’s shortcomings have created a public safety concern.

“If they don't care what the truth is and they simply want to put away people, then there is a concern that real perpetrators are being left on the streets,” he said.


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  • LibertarianTechie Aug 20, 2010

    A funding issue as some suggest? No! An issue of honesty? Yes! If it is in fact found that innocent people were placed into jail or made to plead guilty, or worse the death penalty was executed, criminal charges should be levied!!

  • yellow_hat Aug 19, 2010

    I'm also sure that the people we convicted were guilty and deserved what they got.

    Ask Taylor & Gell about that. Geez - I cannot believe how many people think that most of the government can do nothing right, but blindly believe the police (also part of government) can do nothing wrong!

  • ORMA Aug 19, 2010

    I wonder how much the lawsuits generated from this report will cost the taxpayers. Funny how the taxpayers keep getting hit with the bills for individuals engaging in unethical misconduct.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Aug 19, 2010

    A whole lot about nuthin'. If they need to change procedure, change procedure. I'm sure Mike Nifong was the reason this was looked into. I'm also sure that the people we convicted were guilty and deserved what they got.

  • reeceeyarnell Aug 19, 2010

    Could someone please tell me any organization with that many employees that doesn't have some fault or corruption. Be realistic! It's happens when that many people work together on anything. If everyone in this world had morals above reproach then we wouldn't need government agencies. These "wrongly convicted" individuals were apparently doing something that made them suspects in the first place. I haven't seen a report yet that said Joe Choir Boy was arrested from his seat in church where he had been on bended knee praying during the time the crime was committed. These are not "innocent" individuals in the character sense of the word. Most are people with either criminal records, or involved in something illegal in close proximity to crime scenes. Funny how observers focus on rights of the criminal rather than victim. Wait till it's your child or family is laying dead on a slab. See if your concern is for the criminal's rights! See if your 1st instinct is to critique the police then!

  • sg0544 Aug 19, 2010

    "As noted above, one case involved a situation in which the Analyst, SA
    Deaver reported that the test results “revealed the presence of blood” despite the fact
    that the confirmatory test was noted as negative (“T-“) in his lab notes. This review was
    unable to determine why this occurred but the report is clearly wrong...the misreporting
    of the confirmatory test in that fashion is unacceptable and should be reviewed for
    appropriate action by the SBI since the Analyst is still employed by the SBI as a Special Agent. This was one of two such instances (involving the same Analyst) where a negative confirmatory test was reported as “revealed the presence of blood.”-page 13 of the report I'm not sure how that can be described as anything but intentionally falsifying a report. You're right that there are exceptionally scientists working in the lab and it's sad that their reputations will suffer because of Mr. Deaver's actions.

  • pamelalynn1956 Aug 19, 2010

    This outside review should include Tennessee. The real predator is still on the streets in this case too !! My guy's bad labs come from both the FBI and the TBI ... here's the proof.!/album.php?aid=28738&id=116230781726327

  • trojandnc Aug 19, 2010


    You misunderstand me. I am pointing out the fact that the taxpayers pay the police, the d.a.'s, the judges, the SBI lab people, the prison guards, and now we are on the hook for 3.8 million per year per person if they are pardoned for the SYSTEM NOT doing it's job in the first place.

    Yet, we are laying off teachers because the State and county govts are out of money.

    Everyone involved in every one of these cases that withheld evidence should be punished to the fullest extent of the law!(which would be even MORE money).

  • astonished Aug 19, 2010

    If any of you were to actually READ the report or LISTEN to Swecker's statements, you would know that he did not think any of the analysts intentionally falsified reports. If the SBI agents and analysts, who work unbelievably hard for the VICTIMS, wanted to falsely convict someone, they would have lied in their notes. BUT THEY DIDN'T. Maybe a bad reporting practice, but the prosecutors had access to their notes and it is the PROSECUTION'S responsibility to turn them over to the defense.

    The crime lab is full of exceptional scientists who are devoted to the truth, regardless of how the media slants it. The News & Observer, especially, printed misleading "facts", misconstrued statements, and outright lies. But people love a good scandal, and will jump right on the bandwagon no matter how many good reputations they ruin.

  • bombayrunner Aug 19, 2010

    Holy cow I'm so shocked!!! ... yea right, these SBI guys are cops too. Allowing convictions by omission of evidence, there is no surprise here. They will pin it all on a couple people and resume business as usual. But they will just do a better job of covering their tracks next time. They will not omit ... they will destroy it. Nothing will change.