Cooper names SBI lab interim director


"I just want to fix the problems," said Cooper at a news conference.

Last month, a report 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.

The audit revealed that as many as 190 cases may have been affected, including the 1993 murder case of Michael Jordan's father.

Since the release of the audit findings, the SBI launched a nationwide search for a new crime lab director. An advisory group charged with naming a new director also will held its first meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The panel includes prosecutors, defense lawyers and other representatives of the criminal justice system.

Cooper said Wednesday that in the meantime, former Chief Judge of the North Carolina Court of Appeals Gerald Arnold will serve as interim lab director.

Arnold's main job will be to see if mistakes found in the serology section - where some analysts didn't always fully report blood test results in their lab reports - were repeated in the lab's six other sections.

"The key here is going to be to make sure we solve the problems, restore the public confidence in the SBI and move forward with them solving crimes, protecting the public and exonerating innocent people," Cooper said.

Most agents are honest and hard-working, "but some of their colleagues have not been held accountable," he said. "They've made mistakes. And now the entire SBI is paying for that."

The results of the independent review of serology unit cases from 1987 to 2003 found information that could have helped defendants was sometimes misrepresented or withheld.

Cooper had ordered the review in March after an SBI agent testified the crime lab once had a policy of excluding complete blood test results from reports offered to defense lawyers before trials. Agent Duane Deaver's testimony led to the exoneration of a man imprisoned nearly 17 years for a murder conviction.

Cooper announced several other changes in addition to Arnold's appointment, including that he has:

  • asked 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.
  • decided 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."
  • moved 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.

Cooper also said the reviews and changes were not the end of SBI crime lab improvements. The N.C. Conference of District Attorneys has called for an audit of the entire lab, and some critics have said the lab should be independent and not part of the SBI.

"This is not the be all and end all," he said. "We're continuing to look, continuing to move forward."

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