Local News

AG orders outside review of SBI crime lab

Posted March 5, 2010 1:42 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2010 3:03 p.m. EST

— 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.