State News

Cooper appoints interim crime lab chief, calls for thorough audit

Posted September 8, 2010 4:00 a.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2010 5:57 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday that he wants an audit of the state crime lab to determine if questionable practices were used.

Last month, a report by independent investigators found 190 cases that resulted in convictions from 1987 to 2003  in which State Bureau of Investigation agents in the crime lab's blood-stain analysis unit omitted, overstated or falsely reported information about blood evidence.

The report led SBI Director Greg McLeod to relieve Jerry Richardson of his duties as crime lab director and to remove any SBI analysts identified in the review of their current caseloads.

Cooper named former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Gerald Arnold to serve as interim director of the crime lab and oversee the audits to determine if similar problems occurred in other sections of the lab.

"Judge Arnold is charged with making sure the lab provides results that are accurate and properly reported," Cooper said at a news conference. "He will also oversee a review of all the sections of the lab to determine if any of the problems regarding lab reports and lab bench notes found in the old serology section have been occurring in other sections."

There has been no evidence of similar problems in other areas, he said, but if problems are found by the audits, they will be fixed.

A eight-member advisory panel of prosecutors, defense lawyers and other representatives of the criminal justice system that will help select a new crime lab director also met Wednesday afternoon for the first time.

"I'm interested in their feedback and making sure we continue to build back confidence in the agency," McLeod said.

McLeod said he wants the panel to first identify key qualities the next crime lab director should possess, but that effort caused some disagreement Wednesday.

"The problems I've seen are primarily not with the failure of science but a failure in the management and supervision, and I think that's where we've got to put considerable emphasis," said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, a panel member.

"My ideal candidate is someone who has a scientific background," defense attorney Phil Baddour said.

The director of the crime lab manages 176 analysts and agents, more than 90 percent of whom have science degrees.

"I really don't have the background to say – Is this a doctorate? Is it a master's degree? – what kind of experience. Those are open questions for me that need to be addressed," Baddour said.