Local News

Peterson defense attorney reviewing SBI testimony

Posted August 18, 2010 5:43 p.m. EDT
Updated August 18, 2010 11:00 p.m. EDT

— In light of a report on the practices of the State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab, a former defense attorney for Durham novelist Mike Peterson says he will re-examine the testimony of a blood analysis expert who helped prosecutors win the case against his client seven years ago.

The results of a five-month outside review, released Wednesday, found blood evidence in 190 criminal cases from 1987 to 2003 might have been omitted or overlooked in reports to defense attorneys.

Five of the most "egregious" cases, according to the report, involved SBI agent Duane Deaver, who was an expert witness for the state in Peterson's 2003 murder trial. The new director of the SBI, Gregory S. McLeod, said Wednesday that Deaver is on leave from the agency with pay while his cases are reviewed.

Peterson's case was not among any of the cases listed in the SBI review.

He is serving a life sentence for the December 2001 beating death of his wife, Kathleen, whom emergency workers found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's Durham mansion.

"Deaver was the centerpiece of the prosecution's case – the blood," Peterson's original defense attorney, David Rudolf, said in an e-mail Wednesday. "I certainly think the issues relating to Deaver and the other SBI lab personnel who testified in support of the prosecution's theory need to be raised as grounds for Michael to have a new trial."

Deaver testified that blood spatter at the crime scene was consistent with a beating, but Rudolf consistently questioned his methods, calling them unscientific and unreliable.

"He was not only wrong and a bad scientist, as we argued at the time, he was also willing to pervert or hide the truth when it suited the prosecution’s case," Rudolf said.

Deaver – who an SBI spokeswoman said Wednesday is on "investigatory placement," or paid leave – could not be reached for comment.

Peterson's daughter-in-law, Rebecca Peterson, said in a statement that the family is encouraged by recent developments.

Mike Peterson has exhausted his appeals on the state level, and his appeal is pending in federal court.

"Before and during the trial, we witnessed firsthand the unscientific 'experiments' of Duane Deaver and the other SBI analysts," Rebecca Peterson said. "Our complaints regarding Deaver’s incompetence and lack of professionalism were largely ignored at the time."

Freda Black, a former Durham prosecutor who helped send Peterson to prison, said Wednesday that she "couldn't imagine" Deaver's work being questioned, but declined to comment further until she had a chance to read the report on the SBI.

"Duane Deaver is one of the best analysts and experts I had the pleasure to work with in 25 years of practicing law," she said.

The SBI review accuses Deaver of overstating or falsely reporting blood test results, including one in the case against Desmond Keith Carter, who was executed in 2002.

In two of the cases, including Carter’s, Deaver’s final report on blood analyses said his tests “revealed the presence of blood” when his notes indicated negative results from follow-up tests.

His notes indicate that he got a negative result because he didn’t have enough sample left for the confirmatory test.

In three other cases, the review said Deaver’s reports stated further tests were “inconclusive” or “no result” while his lab notes reflected negative results.

The Attorney General’s Office said Carter confessed to the crime, and the evidence in question wasn’t introduced at trial, the report said.

Chris Swecker and Mike Wolf, former assistant FBI directors called upon by Attorney General Roy Cooper for the review, said they couldn’t determine how Deaver’s mistakes happened, and they leave open the possibility that he didn’t purposely misreport results.

In addition to the Deaver cases, the review found 35 cases where a report states there were indications of blood and that no further testing was done. But handwritten lab notes reflect confirmatory tests got negative or inconclusive results.

The SBI's new director, Greg McLeod, said Wednesday that he is in the process of completing an internal review into the SBI practices.

"Appropriate personnel action will be taken once the review is complete," he said.