SBI overstated and withheld results

Tests for blood that turned out negative were kept from courts and defendants

STAFF WRITERAugust 19, 2010 

A new audit says more than 200 criminal cases will require official reviews because of questionable blood analysis work by the SBI. Seven involve death penalty cases, three of which have resulted in executions.

Officials said that case-by-case reviews will determine whether any convictions were wrongful and that it was too early to draw further conclusions. The audit pointed out that the SBI lab results carried powerful weight in how defense teams decided whether to take a plea, or fight the charges, or how to challenge witnesses.

The death penalty cases promise to receive the most attention.

Here are snapshots of the wide range of other types of cases mentioned in the independent review of the SBI Forensic Laboratory that was released Wednesday. The report is available in full at newsobserver.com:

SBI overstated or incorrectly reported test results.

Norvell Sherrard was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1990 in a 1986 Winston-Salem homicide. The audit says that a piece of evidence, which is not identified in the report, tested positive for blood in a preliminary test. But it was tested three times in a "confirmatory" test, and all were negative. Agent Duane Deaver's report said the further testing "failed to give any result." The audit says there was no other important blood evidence related to the case. Sherrard received a 20-year prison sentence and was released in 1997.

Michael Hampton Hammock pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge in December 1988, three months after a homicide in Roxboro. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison but was released in 1993. The audit says that a piece of evidence, which is not identified in the report, tested positive for blood in a preliminary test. It was tested in a more detailed "confirmatory" test, which was negative. But Deaver's report said further analysis "yielded inconclusive results." Swecker said inconclusive results aren't possible; these tests only yield either positive or negative results. Hammock was a suspect in at least two other homicides, which are not mentioned in the report.

SBI said it didn't conduct further testing even though more tests were done and results were negative.

Michael Coston pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in December 1993 in an Elizabeth City homicide earlier that year. The SBI reported that there were indications of blood on a piece of evidence but said there wasn't enough of it for further analysis. The audit shows that a confirmatory test yielded a negative result. Coston was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He was released in 2001.

Ronald Donnel Stanley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 1993 in a Lumberton homicide. As with Coston, the SBI reported that there were indications of blood on a piece of evidence but said there wasn't enough of it for further analysis. However, the audit now shows that a confirmatory test had been performed, and the result was negative. Stanley received a 13-year sentence and was released in August 1996.

SBI reported positive "indications of blood" but omitted mention of negative or inconclusive test results.

Larry Martin Demery and Daniel Andre Green were convicted in the shooting death of NBA basketball star Michael Jordan's father, James. Demery testified against Green, who had denied the shooting. Both are serving life sentences. The audit says an early test on a piece of evidence was positive, and the SBI's report said there were chemical indications of the presence of blood. But lab notes show a confirmatory test was not conclusive. Demery had testified that Green was the shooter, saying, "We both stood there and watched the man die."

SBI reported "indications" of blood, described as qualifying language, but didn't report a negative follow-up test.

David Sokolowski was convicted in 1994 in the dismembering and burning deaths of his wife and a neighbor in Orange County. Much of the case against him involving his wife was circumstantial because of the condition of the remains, and he challenged the prosecution's reliance on blood evidence. The audit says that in the case of the wife's death, three pieces of evidence were tested twice, and the SBI reported that there was "indications for the presence of blood ... on items" but that there was insufficient evidence to allow for conclusive identification. However, there actually were negative test results. The audit says there were positive test results on nine other pieces of evidence.

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