Local News

State panel grills SBI chief about pace of reform

Posted December 7, 2010 7:46 p.m. EST

— Months after the State Bureau of Investigation said it would implement a series of improvements to correct problems in its blood analysis unit, members of a special legislative committee appeared Tuesday to be losing patience.

An independent review released in August found 190 cases that resulted in convictions from 1987 to 2003 in which SBI agents in the crime lab's blood-stain analysis unit omitted, overstated or falsely reported information about blood evidence.

Following that review, the crime lab director was removed, and Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered audits of other parts of the lab. Defense attorneys are questioning the credibility of the SBI in court, and some lawmakers have said that the lab might need to be removed from SBI control.

On Tuesday, SBI Director Greg McLeod updated a legislative committee on the search for a new crime lab director, but lawmakers and other committee peppered him with questions about the slow pace of reform.

"We're hearing they're working on it, they're working on it. But I think what the committee is looking for is some idea of how long it's going to take for them to work on it," said Christine Mumma, a committee member and the executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.

The committee asked McLeod about future time-lines and progress, but some members said they felt he was evasive and not forthcoming.

"In the interest of time, if we could go to the part of what Ms. Mumma was actually asking about," state Rep. Paul Stam told McLeod.

Stam, R-Wake, and others said they expected to be further along in the search of a new lab director.

"It's going slower than we all hoped," he said.

McLeod said he is satisfied with the SBI's methodical review of its operations.

"What I don't want to do is focus on speed or rush to judgment in any way. I want to make good decisions," he said.

He said a search firm should help identify the next director within 90 days. To find the best candidate, he said, the State Personnel Office agreed to increase the top end of the pay range for the position from $107,000 to $115,000 a year.

McLeod said he believes the SBI is making strides to improve public confidence.

"We do have an acting lab director. We're doing a full lab review of all the sections in the lab," he said.

Yet, what concerned some committee members are the decisions they haven't seen from the new leadership.

"Some of the members wanted to know more about the future than the past," Stam said.

"What I'm not hearing is how the culture is really going to change, and that's what needs to change. The message from the top all the way down," Mumma said.