NC lawmaker: Law on SBI may need to be changed

September 16, 2010 5:24:44 PM PDT
A leader of a legislative panel considering reforms at North Carolina's state-run crime lab says lawmakers will consider changing state law if necessary to ensure that lab analysts answer only to science and not to prosecutors.

Rep. Rick Glazier is co-chairman of a legislative committee that met Thursday to consider changes at the lab, which is under the State Bureau of Investigation.

Glazier told The Associated Press after the meeting that he wants to study whether that language should be changed so that SBI analysts know they work for science.

A report released in February on the lab showed that blood test results favorable to defendants was excluded from some lab reports in a 16-year period that ended in 2003.

Also Thursday, the former FBI agent whose independent investigation uncovered problems in the crime lab says he did not find an "evil mindset" among the lab analysts.

But Chris Swecker told the legislative committee Thursday he believes the analysts thought they wrote their reports for law enforcement.

Swecker is one of two former assistant FBI directors whose review of the blood lab section of the State Bureau of Investigation found that information favorable to defendants was excluded from some reports.

Swecker says he believes the blood lab was poorly led at the time covered by the report. He says that poor leadership may have gone higher in the agency.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper also met with the legislative committee Thursday to discuss what went wrong at the crime lab.

Cooper requested to be added to the agenda for the Joint Select Study Committee on the Preservation of Biological Evidence in order to discuss reforms.

"As Attorney General I take seriously the responsibility of making sure these problems are fixed. And they will be," he said.

Last week, Cooper named former Chief Judge of the North Carolina Court of Appeals Gerald Arnold as interim lab director while the search for a permanent replacement is underway.

The audit report, which was conducted by independent investigators, found that SBI agents helped prosecutors obtain convictions over a 16-year period by misrepresenting blood evidence and keeping critical notes from defense lawyers.

Investigators found that as many as 190 cases may have been affected.

Cooper ordered the independent review in March after a SBI agent testified the crime lab once had a policy of excluding complete blood test results from reports offered to defense lawyers before trials.

The Attorney General says he is working on changes including:

asking the former assistant directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who did the independent investigation of the serology unit to audit the DNA and the firearms and tool mark sections. He also he also has sought help from the ATF with the firearms and tool mark section audit.

deciding to continue the suspension of the bloodstain analysis program, which is not part of the crime lab but is part of the SBI. Cooper said he wants the program to become accredited so it can be part of the lab. He also said he was concerned about "the potential influence of prosecutors on SBI agent decisions with this science."

moving up to 2011 the plan for a tougher accreditation for the lab. The lab is now accredited by ASCLD/LAB and the state had intended to seek the tougher International ISO accreditation by 2013.

In addition to reviews and changes he is implementing, Cooper also said the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys has called for an audit of the entire lab.

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