SBI finds dozens more lab errors

March 22, 2011 5:39:30 PM PDT
North Carolina's crime lab has found dozens more cases of mishandled blood evidence, adding to an already extensive review of years-old files, prosecutors said Tuesday.

District attorneys from around the state are preparing to reassess the 75 new cases in the coming months. Prosecutors have already analyzed some 150 cases identified as part of an inquiry last year, and they contend each conviction was appropriate because of other evidence such as confessions, eyewitnesses and ballistics.

"There was additional overwhelming evidence in every one of them," said Peg Dorer, executive director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

Dorer said SBI officials notified the prosecutors last week about the new 75 cases. SBI leaders didn't respond to requests for comment.

SBI Director Greg McLeod released the following statement in response to the review of the district attorneys' review of serology cases:

"The district attorneys' review of the evidence analysis in these cases is a critical part of the process and we appreciate the work they have done. Just as important is a commitment to continuing an internal review of casework. Acting Lab Director Judge Joe John and his team have found additional cases that we believe deserve review by prosecutors and the Lab is working to provide them with complete case files in those cases."

Click here to read the serology list.

Defense attorneys questioned the reliability of the review led by prosecutors. Diane Savage, a lawyer who has focused on crime lab issues for years, said prosecutors can't know what a jury how a jury would respond if it learned about improperly handled evidence. And she noted that confessions and eyewitness testimony aren't always reliable.

"To me it seems like a complete whitewash," Savage said.

The case that triggered the SBI review in the first place was based in part on the mishandled blood evidence and unreliable eyewitness testimony. Greg Taylor was exonerated last year after being wrongly imprisoned nearly 17 years for a murder conviction.

During Taylor's innocence hearing, an SBI agent testified that agents were told to write in lab reports that evidence gave chemical indications for the presence of blood when the first test for blood came back positive. Agent Duane Deaver said agents were told to use that language even when a follow-up test was negative.

Deaver is linked to the five most egregious violations of blood evidence handling, and last year's SBI audit accused him of overstating or falsely reporting blood test results.

Following Taylor's exoneration, the cases in question were sent back to DAs to be re-examined.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby says his office found out the status of his cases will not change and that there was no other evidence which led to guilt.

"In the Wake County cases, most were cases with confessions and the confessions came before there was any blood analysis done by the lab," Willoughby said.

Christine Mumma, a defense attorney and director of the NC Center on Actual Innocence, was Taylor's lawyer.

"I don't think there's anybody who would be surprised that the district attorneys felt there was other evidence of guilt," Mumma said. "That's why the cases were prosecuted in the first place."

She feels defense attorneys should be reviewing the cases alongside prosecutors to be fair.

Earlier this month, a Durham judge ruled the DA and SBI agent in the case of Derrick Allen his or omitted blood evidence.

Willoughby says that's not how he works.

"We have to accept the science as science whether helpful or not, but I don't think that anyone is tilting the scale in favor of the prosecutors," Willoughby said.

Mumma says she thinks there are innocent people in prison.

"I am absolutely confident that there are innocent people in prison," she said. "I'm absolutely confident there are innocent people in prison who will die there because nothing can be done. The question remains whether there are innocent people identified through this audit where something can be done."

As for the cases that will get an additional look, McLeod says the SBI is working to get prosecutors to complete case files for review.

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