Crime lab concerns become gubernatorial race issue

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Attorney General Roy Cooper's management of the State Crime Lab has landed at center stage in his quest to unseat Gov. Pat McCrory in November.

Two Republican state lawmakers are calling on Cooper to take ownership of what they say are persistent problems at the Crime Lab.

The lab, once running a massive backlog of thousands of cases, came under fire in 2010 for misrepresenting evidence leading to costly wrongful convictions.

From the NC Republic Party Headquarters in Raleigh on Wednesday, Rep. Marilyn Avila, (R-Wake), and Rep. Holly Grange, (R-New Hanover) talked about their concerns as professionals in science and criminal justice.

"There is still a backlog, especially when it comes to rape kits," said Grange, a former attorney. "But a judge will only issue continuances in a court case for so long. At some point they have to draw the line and either evidence has to be produced or the case will be dismissed."

Grange and Avila, a professional chemist, said it should only take 30 days to process a rape kit.

"In so many of these cases, people's lives and their freedom's at stake and we can't be careless about that," Avila said.

The North Carolina Department of Justice told ABC11 the backlog has in fact been cleared, but the average turnaround time for cases is seven and a half months.

Noelle Talley, NCDOJ spokesperson, explained that number includes everything from simple DWI tests to complex murder cases involving multiple analyses of dozens of pieces of evidence.

Still, Avila criticized the lab for not keeping up with advances in forensic science.

"There's been this direction for some time in forensic science that Roy Cooper and the individuals associated with the lab have not taken advantage of, have not been aware of, and have compounded our problems," she said.

Problems that Grange said are up to Cooper to solve.

"I know that he inherited some of these messes and some of these systemic problems," she said. "However, at some point you have to take ownership of those problems and solve them."
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