Local News

Attorney general suspends SBI blood stain analysis

Posted July 30, 2010 12:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2010 6:30 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said Friday that he has suspended activity of the State Bureau of Investigation's blood stain analysis program, saying procedures need to be further reviewed.

Cooper halted the program last weekend, meaning its six certified bloodstain analysts will no longer examine blood stains and spatters.

They will continue testing blood for DNA, drugs and other purposes, Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, said.

In March, Cooper ordered an internal investigation and also brought in two former assistant FBI directors to review the state crime lab, its methods and cases involving blood spatter analysis following the exoneration of Gregory Taylor.

The outside findings are expected soon, although Cooper did not say when.

Taylor served 17 years in prison for a crime that a special judicial panel determined he did not commit. Part of the issue with his conviction had to do with blood evidence that an SBI agent never turned over during Taylor's 1993 trial that could have proved he wasn't responsible for the killing.

Special Agent Duane Deaver testified in a special hearing in February that he omitted in the trial important follow-up test results on a sample from Taylor's truck that showed no presence of blood.

The results, Deaver said, were in his notes but he did not include them in his formal report because SBI policy at the time was to report evidence that showed an indication for blood, even when follow-up tests were negative.

State law now requires the SBI and other law enforcement agencies to turn over all notes for the prosecution and defense.

Robin Pendergraft, who took over as SBI director in 2001, admitted in February that the policy was not a good practice.

Defense attorneys have criticized her for not taking necessary steps to address problems when she became aware of them.

An announcement Thursday that Cooper's legislative liaison, Greg McLeod, is taking over as SBI director so Pendergraft can take on a new role in the Attorney General's Office was welcome news for them.

"I'm pleased to see there's been a change," said David Rudolf, who has represented clients who have sued the SBI. "On the other hand, I'd prefer to see someone come in from the outside – moreover, someone with experience to reform a law enforcement agency top-down and to change the culture."

Cooper said Pendergraft's move has nothing to do with her performance, calling her an "excellent SBI director and law enforcement leader."

Rudolf said he believes the SBI Crime Lab should be an independent agency, because the culture in the lab centers on building a case to support field agents' theories instead of the truth.

Taylor's attorney, Christine Mumma, who is also director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, agrees.

"Change was absolutely necessary. It’s a first step that needed to be taken. Analysts follow directions of the director," she said. "The SBI Lab should be independent from the Attorney General's Office. It should be neutral and fair. Right now, it is the prosecutor's lab, not the justice system's lab."