SBI lab errors might affect 74 more criminal cases

Staff writerMarch 22, 2011 

SBILAB13.NE.031710.ASR

SBI analyst Hope Copeland readies drug screens in the toxicology lab at the SBI's headquarters in Raleigh.

SHAWN ROCCO — SHAWN ROCCO - srocco@newsobserver.com

State Bureau of Investigation officials have found 74 more criminal cases in which analysts did not report additional tests and results to prosecutors.

Those cases are similar to 229 identified last August by two former FBI agents hired to audit a section of the lab.

SBI Director Greg McLeod said in a statement that senior analysts at the lab found those additional cases after reviewing cases by hand that had been vetted electronically by the previous auditors. In some of these cases, the lab employee was analyzing evidence for bodily fluids other than blood, such as semen or saliva.

The SBI will be providing those additional cases to district attorneys and asking that they determine whether the case needs to be revisited in court.

District Attorneys earlier today announced that 147 cases identified in the August audit do not need further review. The prosecutors say they have found separate evidence of guilt apart from flawed blood evidence.

"Prosecution decisions are not made in a vacuum," said Seth Edwards, district attorney in the eastern part of North Carolina. "The Swecker report was simply a snapshot of lab work and did not examine the full evidence in these cases."

In 17 cases, prosecutors have yet to find the files and fear they may have been discarded.

Forty-three prosecutors were involved in the review. In a number of the 229 cases cited in the audit, no suspect was charged. In some, the suspect was acquitted.

Among the cases district attorneys signed off on was Derrick Allen, a Durham man who was released last year. Earlier this month Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson issued an order dismissing charges against Allen, saying he could never receive a fair trial.

Hudson offered harsh words for the SBI's handling of the case, saying the SBI analyst "intentionally chose to write her report in such a way as to omit any reference to the testing that she conducted that failed to confirm the presence of blood."

Edwards, the district attorney, said that defense attorneys may differ in conclusions reached by prosecutors and may eventually ask judges for relief in those cases.

Mary Pollard, executive director of the North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, said her staff have identified some cases in the audit that they will be bringing back before a judge. She declined to say how many.

"What evidence is material is in the eye of the beholder," Pollard said.

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

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