State News

Review: Questions about SBI won't result in overturned guilty verdicts

Posted March 22, 2011 9:04 a.m. EDT
Updated March 22, 2011 7:00 p.m. EDT

— A second look at more than 100 criminal cases in which lab evidence had been called into question will not result in any of those guilty verdicts being overturned, a state panel said Tuesday.

Attorney General Roy Cooper asked the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys to review the cases as part of an ongoing probe into the procedures of the Forensic Biology Section of the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab.

An independent review of the section conducted last summer found lab analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in dozens of cases, including three that ended in executions, between 1987 and 2003. The reviewers, former FBI agents Chris Swecker and Mike Wolf, called for a re-examination of blood evidence in 230 criminal cases during that period.

In 65 of those cases, no one was charged, the case was dismissed or the defendant was found not guilty, leaving 165 cases that yielded guilty verdicts. The Conference of District Attorneys looked at both the blood evidence and other evidence in each case.

In 147 cases, the DAs found "additional overwhelming evidence of guilt, including confessions, eyewitnesses, ballistics, DNA or a combination thereof," the report said. The remaining case files could not be found.

"All reviewed cases were found to have compelling evidence of guilt separate and apart from the lab work," conference President Seth Edwards wrote.

Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, and others who represent criminal defendants say they are not surprised that those who prosecute crimes stand by those prosecutions. 

Mumma's organization helped a man convicted of murder in 1993 clear his name last year after 17 years in prison. Among the evidence used to exonerate Greg Taylor was testimony from an SBI agent about the practice of excluding complete blood test results from reports offered to defense attorneys.

That testimony prompted the independent review of the SBI crime lab, the dismissal of that agent, Duane Deaver, and the reassignment of the director of the SBI.

Mumma asked Tuesday for another independent investigation. "It would be very embarrassing now if we have cases that come out of that 147 where there is proof of innocence," she said.

When he issued his report in August, Swecker said, "No one should conclude that someone has been wrongfully convicted."

The DAs are continuing to review cases as Acting SBI Director Judge John Joe looks into the workings at the lab. They will report on those cases as well, Edwards wrote.