Ex-SBI analyst defends withholding test results

Staff writersAugust 20, 2010 

Jed Taub spent his entire career telling prosecutors whether evidence collected at crime scenes was stained with blood, a clue so critical it sometimes determined the difference between guilt or innocence.

On Wednesday, a former FBI agent hired by Attorney General Roy Cooper criticized the work of Taub and seven other analysts, saying their work amounted to civil rights violations. Taub's work is now being called biased, scientifically unsound and unfair.

For 16 years, SBI blood analysts routinely omitted the results of more sophisticated tests that pointed to the absence of blood. Their reports, instead, stated that they had found chemical indications for blood.

Taub, who retired in 2004 after 30 years at the SBI, defended his analysis and that of his colleagues.

"We didn't report the negative result of a confirmatory test because, really, it's misleading," said Taub, who now works as a forensic investigator for the Pitt County Sheriff's Office. "We couldn't be sure it wasn't blood, so those tests really didn't matter."

In serology, analysts use two sets of tests to check for blood. The first, a presumptive test such as phenolphthalein, offers clues about where blood may be. But it's a problematic test because other substances, such as plant and animal matter, can trigger a positive result. Until 2003, when DNA analysis became commonplace at the SBI, analysts would turn to a second set of sophisticated blood tests to determine if the substance was, in fact, blood.

Former FBI agent Chris Swecker flagged nine cases Taub handled in which he withheld crucial results. Taub said that he worked an average of 230 cases each year from 1974 to his retirement 30 years later.

Taub dismissed the audit and the criticism it has brought to him and several colleagues.

"There's a lot of people making much ado about nothing," Taub said.

Taub said that the only times he reported the absence of blood was when he got a negative result on that first, presumptive test. Any negative results after that were irrelevant, he said.

"People are so spacey about blood," Taub said. "If there was a misunderstanding, that's the fault of the [defense] attorney. We can't forestall every idiot."

Taub said that the safeguard against misunderstanding his analysis would have been to call him to court to testify.

Taub still works with blood analysis at the Pitt County Sheriff's Office.

Three other SBI analysts targeted in the audit still work at the SBI, though new agency director Greg McLeod said he was investigating their performance internally.

Another analyst targeted in the audit, Lucy Milks, is a contract employee in the drug section. She could not be reached for comment.

All other analysts, except Taub, did not return a call for comment.

The analysts include:

Duane Deaver, who is at the center of the questionable serology work. He was suspended Wednesday pending further internal investigation. He earns $72,423 a year and has worked in recent months as a training coordinator.

Suzi Barker, a supervisor in the DNA section. Barker earns $67,938 a year.

Jennifer Elwell, an analyst in the DNA section. She earns $67,917 a year.

Russell Holley, who also works in the DNA section performing serology analysis. He earns $52,449 a year.

Milks left the agency in 2006; her salary then was $65,177. She works on contract as a chemist in the drug chemistry section.

Brenda Bissette, who retired in 2005 with a salary of $61,149 after she botched blood evidence in a capital murder case, swapping the victim and suspect's blood sample. She has previously declined to comment on her employment at the bureau.

David J. Spittle, who left the bureau in 2001 with a salary of $59,628.

News researcher Brooke Cain and database editor David Raynor contributed to this report.

Mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8927

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