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Highlights from the SBI crime lab review

Posted August 18, 2010

A review of the blood analysis unit at the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab focuses in part on five cases as the most egregious – each handled by Duane Deaver, an agent whose testimony about policies at the SBI led to a groundbreaking exoneration of a murder convict and to the government-ordered inquest. Deaver is on leave with pay from the SBI while an investigation into his work is completed.

Following is a summary of Deaver’s flawed cases, according to the review:

  • Norvell Sherrard was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in December 1990 in a Winston-Salem case and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Item No. 2, which the report did not identify, tested positive for the presence of blood in a preliminary test. But three follow-up tests to confirm were negative. However, Deaver’s report said that further testing failed to give any result. There was no other blood evidence. Sherrard was released from prison in July 1997.
     
  • James Lipscomb Jr. pleaded no contest to breaking and entering in September 1988 in an Orange County case and received probation. Item No. 1 tested positive for blood in a preliminary test, but both a confirmatory test and another test were negative. Deaver’s report said the item revealed the actual presence of blood instead of “chemical indications of blood.” It also didn’t reflect the two negative tests. Human blood was identified on another item.
     
  • Michael Hampton Hammock pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in December 1988 in a case from Roxboro and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Deaver’s report said Item No. 5 gave indications for blood and that further analysis of the stain yielded inconclusive results. However, a confirmatory test was negative. There was no other relevant blood evidence in the case. Hammock was released in August 1993.
     
  • Joe Russell Bright pleaded guilty in a homicide, which the report does not specify, in a case in Rutherford County and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Deaver’s report said item No. 29 gave indications for the presence of blood and that further testing yielded inconclusive results. That did not reflect a negative confirmatory test result. There was no other relevant serology evidence in the case. Bright was released in June 1997
     
  • Desmond Keith Carter was executed in 2002, a decade after he was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his neighbor, Helen Purdy of Eden. Deaver’s report said Item No. 8 confirmed the presence of blood. That overstated the results because a follow-up test was negative due to an insufficient sample to test. Carter confessed, and the Attorney General’s Office said a review of the trial transcript showed the item wasn’t introduced into evidence.

In addition to Carter, two other cases (unassociated with Deaver) mentioned in the SBI review ended in executions:

  • John Hardy Rose was convicted of first-degree murder in 1992 and executed in 2001 for the slaying of Patricia Stewart in Graham County. An SBI analyst reported that an item in the investigation gave chemical indications for the presence of blood and said that there wasn’t enough quantity in the stain to test further. In fact, the analyst had conducted two follow-up tests, one of which was negative and one of which was inconclusive. Neither was reported. Rose confessed to the stabbing death; testing on other items found in Rose’s car revealed blood consistent with victim Patricia Stewart.
     
  • Joseph Timothy Keel was executed in 2003 for the 1990 slaying of his father-in-law in Edgecombe County. An SBI analyst reported that there were indications for the presence of blood on an item in the investigation but that there wasn’t enough evidence for a conclusive identification. That report failed to reflect an attempt at a confirmatory test that came up negative. Keel confessed to the shooting death of Johnny Smith.
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