State News

Review: Questions about SBI won't result in overturned guilty verdicts

Posted March 22, 2011

— A second look at more than 100 criminal cases in which lab evidence had been called into question will not result in any of those guilty verdicts being overturned, a state panel said Tuesday.

Attorney General Roy Cooper asked the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys to review the cases as part of an ongoing probe into the procedures of the Forensic Biology Section of the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab.

An independent review of the section conducted last summer found lab analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in dozens of cases, including three that ended in executions, between 1987 and 2003. The reviewers, former FBI agents Chris Swecker and Mike Wolf, called for a re-examination of blood evidence in 230 criminal cases during that period.

In 65 of those cases, no one was charged, the case was dismissed or the defendant was found not guilty, leaving 165 cases that yielded guilty verdicts. The Conference of District Attorneys looked at both the blood evidence and other evidence in each case.

In 147 cases, the DAs found "additional overwhelming evidence of guilt, including confessions, eyewitnesses, ballistics, DNA or a combination thereof," the report said. The remaining case files could not be found.

"All reviewed cases were found to have compelling evidence of guilt separate and apart from the lab work," conference President Seth Edwards wrote.

State Bureau of Investigation, SBI (16x9) Review: Questions about SBI won't result in overturned guilty verdicts

Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, and others who represent criminal defendants say they are not surprised that those who prosecute crimes stand by those prosecutions. 

Mumma's organization helped a man convicted of murder in 1993 clear his name last year after 17 years in prison. Among the evidence used to exonerate Greg Taylor was testimony from an SBI agent about the practice of excluding complete blood test results from reports offered to defense attorneys.

That testimony prompted the independent review of the SBI crime lab, the dismissal of that agent, Duane Deaver, and the reassignment of the director of the SBI.

Mumma asked Tuesday for another independent investigation. "It would be very embarrassing now if we have cases that come out of that 147 where there is proof of innocence," she said.

When he issued his report in August, Swecker said, "No one should conclude that someone has been wrongfully convicted."

The DAs are continuing to review cases as Acting SBI Director Judge John Joe looks into the workings at the lab. They will report on those cases as well, Edwards wrote.

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  • wolfnuke Mar 23, 2011

    "Wow. Hope I'm never up on charges with you on the jury. So, we have two pieces of evidence. Let's say some blood on the defendant's car and an eyewitness. Both of those might convince a jury. You take away the blood though, and now the jury only has an eyewitness to try to evaluate as to their believability. Hmm, how could the eyewitness have seen the defendant stab the victim, get in his car and drive away, when there is no blood in the car? Reasonable doubt anyone?"

    I'm not sure what your complaint is exactly. I would not lock someone up based solely upon an eyewitness, I personally don't believe that eyewitnesses are worth a penny in court, humans can too easily lie or make mistakes.

    I was saying that if you have a gun with fingerprints, a videotape of the crime and a confession we shouldn't overturn their conviction because a blood test was inconclusive less than 50% of the times it was tested and a lab employee didn't put that in a report.

  • delilahk2000 Mar 22, 2011

    IT JUST GOES TO SHOW THE DA COULD CARE LESS IF YOU ARE GUILTY OR INNOCENT. TO THEM ALL BEFORE THE GREAT DA IS GUILTY EVIDENCE OR NOT YOU ARE GUILTY. IT MUST BE GREAT TO BE THE ALL KNOWING, AND YOU ARE NEVER WRONG, WHY YOU HAVE THE POWER. WHAT HYPOCRITES....

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Mar 22, 2011

    "And if someone is locked up based upon one piece of evidence with nothing else to confirm their guilt then maybe the whole system should be changed. We shouldn't let a guilty man go free if there is other evidence to prove his guilt based on a mistake or even if it was on purpose."

    Wow. Hope I'm never up on charges with you on the jury. So, we have two pieces of evidence. Let's say some blood on the defendant's car and an eyewitness. Both of those might convince a jury. You take away the blood though, and now the jury only has an eyewitness to try to evaluate as to their believability. Hmm, how could the eyewitness have seen the defendant stab the victim, get in his car and drive away, when there is no blood in the car? Reasonable doubt anyone? To say that you can convict without the bogus evidence is a highly subjective determination. If you remove the bogus evidence, maybe one or two jurors now have reasonable doubt. Scary stuff....

  • TheDude abides... Mar 22, 2011

    And these people wouldnt have ANY interest? A totally objective assessment?

    What a joke. All they want are EASY convictions.

  • jayhurst Mar 22, 2011

    One of our nation's bedrock principles is that it's better to let ten guilty men go free than to imprison a single innocent man. That's why the Forefathers included a Bill of Rights in our Constitution (and we all have the exact same number of rights as criminals, not one less).

    At least some of these tests were written to obfuscate that results did NOT prove the presence of blood, leaving jurors with the impression that blood WAS present. That changes the way a rational adult views the rest of the case. And, that's pretty close to committing fraud upon the court, and it certainly undermines our whole system.

    I concur with wolfnuke that we need some fundamental changes in our State and Federal systems. Prosecutors have far too much power, and we lock up far too many people who should instead be picking up trash along the roads. The "tough-on-crime" myth is bankrupting us.

  • whinnfjord Mar 22, 2011

    What else did anyone else expect the NC Conference of DISTRICT ATTORNEYS to conclude? They aren't about to come out and announce that even a few of the verdicts are invalid because that casts doubt onto the rest of them. I don't necessarily believe that the NC Conf. of DAs is wrong, but it seems like we need to consider the source here...

    Also, am I the only person who is confused as to how 18 of the 230 cases that were recommended for review could not be found? Seriously, they LOST THE FILES in almost 10% of the cases in question here???? What's up with that? I think that's terrible.

  • tran Mar 22, 2011

    No surprise here. No integrity either.

    The law and order types should realize that when people are railroaded like this, 2 mistakes are made. An innocent man is locked up while the guilty man is still at large.

    And yes, most careerist DAs operate the same way. It's all about convictions.

  • wolfnuke Mar 22, 2011

    I'm not entirely sure what the big issue is with these tests. As far as I know they were not able to use a test result if the results were not confirmed more than half of the time, which means all these tests they want thrown out are probably more accurate than the driving exams in this country.

    And if someone is locked up based upon one piece of evidence with nothing else to confirm their guilt then maybe the whole system should be changed. We shouldn't let a guilty man go free if there is other evidence to prove his guilt based on a mistake or even if it was on purpose.

  • jayhurst Mar 22, 2011

    "Independent" forensics lab. Beg pardon.

  • jayhurst Mar 22, 2011

    1. It is too bad that the original DAs and Lab Techs didn't allow this alleged, inculpatory evidence to be used in a FAIR trial long ago. Shame on them for failing us all, they've let killers remain among us - and might instead have killed the not guilty.

    2. It is no surprise that these DAs have found other DAs' cases are okay, DESPITE the constitutional violations that demand dismissal in many of these cases (not technicalities, there are no such things, they are constitutional violations). It is trusting the foxes to guard the henhouse that has led to this outrage - and perhaps official criminality - in the first place.

    3. The headline here, about DAs assuring us that all is well, is starkly different from that in the Washington Post: "Prosecutors: NC crime lab finds dozens more faulty blood evidence cases than already alleged." That is mentioned deep in the N&O piece, but here I either missed it, or it wasn't reported.

    4. I join the many others in calling for a forensics lab

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