Union County DA will review cases

SBI missteps prompt action

Staff WritersAugust 11, 2010 

Union County District Attorney John Snyder said Tuesday that he will review all past homicide cases in his district to ensure that none have been tainted by mistakes from the crime lab at the State Bureau of Investigation.

Snyder also called on Attorney General Roy Cooper, who oversees the SBI, to establish nationally recognized scientific standards at the lab. Science at the lab should be as rigorous as that practiced in the university and corporate labs that have made the state a leader in medicine, biotechnology and other fields, he said.

"The irony is, we have the best science being made in North Carolina, but down the road at the SBI lab we have bad science being used to take away someone's liberty," said Snyder, whose district is southwest of Raleigh on the South Carolina border near Charlotte.

Snyder said he was reacting to The News & Observer series "Agents' Secrets" about problems at the SBI. On Tuesday, The N&O reported on bizarre experiments conducted by the SBI's bloodstain pattern analysts introduced in a first-degree murder trial in Davie County.

National experts described the experiments as junk science. An SBI analyst had secretly changed conclusions in his reports to fit a prosecution theory; the jury foreman labeled that behavior "fraud."

The agency's chief bloodstain pattern analyst, Duane Deaver, has come under fire in previous cases for not reporting test results pointing to innocence or testifying about bloodstains when he had not run tests proving the stains were blood. In a 2009 ruling, a federal judge criticized Deaver for false and misleading testimony in a Johnston County capital case.

After The N&O interviewed SBI director Robin Pendergraft in late July about several cases, Cooper suspended the work of the bloodstain pattern analysts and removed Pendergraft from her job.

Cooper's spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday that the SBI and the Attorney General's Office stood ready to help Snyder and every other district attorney in North Carolina.

"Although the SBI Crime Lab has nationally recognized certification ..., the Attorney General has ordered the new SBI director to conduct a thorough review, make necessary improvements and obtain any additional certification that is appropriate," according to a written statement issued by Noelle Talley.

In February, a three-judge panel declared Gregory Taylor innocent of a 1991 slaying, in part because Deaver had failed to report test results favorable to Taylor. He later testified that his supervisor taught him to exclude negative tests from his lab reports.

Cooper, a Democrat, commissioned an outside audit in March of the lab's blood analysis unit. The audit is continuing.

Snyder said his office would review all homicide convictions in which the defendant had not made a confession, which would likely total 100 to 200 cases.

Snyder, a Republican who is nearing the end of his first term, said the SBI field agents working in his district were outstanding. But he criticized agents and lab analysts who would craft reports to fit a police or prosecution theory.

"That's not science; that's creation," he said.

joseph.neff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4516

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