WRAL Investigates

Defense attorney says ex-SBI analyst 'telling half the truth'

Posted March 8, 2011 5:35 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2011 9:19 a.m. EST

— Some defense attorneys blame a discredited blood analyst in the state crime lab for their clients' convictions, while former colleagues and others say he is being railroaded.

An independent review of the crime lab last year concluded that State Bureau of Investigation analysts had frequently misstated or falsely reported blood evidence in about 200 criminal cases during a 16-year period ending in 2003.

Some of the most egregious violations found were linked to Duane Deaver, whom Attorney General Roy Cooper fired in January.

In an exclusive interview last Friday with WRAL Investigates, Deaver spoke for the first time since his termination, maintaining that he simply followed SBI policy and didn't do anything wrong.

"We did what we thought was scientifically correct and honest for everyone," he said. "I viewed my job as a scientist. I would take exception to the fact that anyone would say I was trying to build a case against somebody."

"He either doesn't get it or he doesn't want to get it, but I was shocked that he's thinking what he did was OK," defense attorney Diane Savage said.

Savage represented George Goode during appeals of his conviction for the murder of a Johnston County couple. She has argued for years that Deaver misled jurors in the case by indicating blood was on Goode's boots when secondary tests done in the crime lab came back negative.

The SBI's policies, which have changed since the independent review, used to call for analysts to include initial test results in their official report, while the results of negative secondary tests were included only in each analyst's notes.

State courts backed Deaver's expertise in the Goode case, but a federal judge sided with Savage in 2009, calling the evidence "misleading."

"He's not telling the whole truth. He's telling half of the truth," Savage said of Deaver.

Bill Weis, who was with the SBI for 30 years before retiring as assistant director, said he believes Deaver and the agency are being unfairly blamed for old lab practices.

"I feel Duane Deaver is one of the most honest people I've ever met," Weis said. "What disturbs me most is Duane Deaver has become a villain. The SBI's name has been tarnished, and the truth has not prevailed."

"When I put that up next to Greg Taylor being in prison for 17 years, there's just no comparison," lawyer Christine Mumma said.

Much of Deaver's troubles are tied to Taylor's case. An independent judicial panel found Taylor innocent in February 2010 of a murder that he had been convicted of in 1993, and the ruling prompted the independent review of the crime lab.

Deaver's blood analysis was cited in Taylor's murder trial as showing a preliminary indication of blood on Taylor's truck. In his notes from the time, Deaver wrote that secondary tests were negative for blood, but those notes were never revealed in the trial and he was never called to testify.

During the hearing last year, Deaver said he couldn't say with scientific certainty that the stain found on the truck was blood.

"Do I think he was guilty of perjury? Yes," said Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence and part of the legal team that helped exonerate Taylor.

Still, she said, she also believes Deaver was caught in an old SBI culture that instructed agents to put negative test results in notes but leave them out of reports.

"I do believe that his supervisors are more culpable than he is, but I do think he shares some culpability," she said. "If he was truly trying to be a forensic scientist, he should be challenging policies they were putting in place."

The state Innocence Commission has filed a contempt of court charge against Deaver in connection with his testimony during Taylor's hearing. He said he looks forward to the day he can defend himself against the firing and the contempt charge.