Local News

Prosecutors worry SBI troubles will lead to more dismissed cases

Posted December 13, 2010 6:54 p.m. EST

— After a murder charge was dismissed against a Durham man who spent more than a decade behind bars, prosecutors and defense attorneys said Monday that more criminal cases could be thrown out.

A judge dismissed the case against Derrick Michael Allen after his lawyer argued that the State Bureau of Investigation had violated his constitutional rights by not sharinge everything it found in blood tests.

Allen, 31, was charged in 1998 in the death and sexual assault of a 2-year-old girl. An autopsy showed the girl died of shaken baby syndrome.

His case was among about 200 cases that an independent audit said were mishandled by the SBI. The audit revealed agents failed to report correct blood evidence in the cases.

Allen has maintained his innocence and was released on bond in September after spending more than a decade in prison.

Defense attorneys across the state are hopeful about the potential impact of the decision.

"That will encourage the judges to take a real hard look at cases that otherwise are just being passed through the system," defense lawyer Mike Unti said Monday.

Unti represents Johnny Daughtry, who was convicted in 1993 of killing his former girlfriend and sentenced to death. As in Derrick Allen's case, Unti said, the SBI's process in Daughtry's case was full of inconsistencies and discrepancies.

"There were more tests performed than was reported in the formal lab report," he said. "Only those that showed a positive result ended up in the testimony of the SBI agent at trial."

That agent was Duane Deaver, the analyst involved with many of the cases highlighted in the independent audit. Daughtry's case wasn't listed in the report.

"A lot of us have known all along that there are some real problems with the SBI and with the evidence that's being put on," defense lawyer Sharon Smith said.

Some prosecutors said they are concerned that emotions might play a role in certain cases.

"Decisions ought to be made based on the evidence and the proper criminal procedure, not whether or not someone is upset or doesn't like the way things went 10 or 15 years ago," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. "There may be other evidence that overshadows (the SBI analysis). It may not be necessary to use that piece of evidence."

Durham County Assistant District Attorney Mich Garrell tried that tack on Friday in Allen's case. He argued that two doctors found evidence of sexual assault on the child and that the SBI evidence had nothing to do with the homicide charge against Allen.

Daughtry's attorneys said they're prepared to head to federal court if the state court ruling does not go their way. They're also considering similar action for many of their other clients.