RALEIGH — Greg Taylor, a Wake County man whose wrongful conviction has been blamed in part on flawed policies and an agent at the State Bureau of Investigation, has filed suit against five former SBI agents and supervisors.
Taylor, 49, was freed in February 2010 after being locked away for 17 years for a crime he didn't commit. Now he's asking the state and its insurers to pay for SBI mistakes.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Taylor claims that SBI agents and their supervisors withheld evidence of his innocence during his 1993 trial. The lawsuit says former agent Duane Deader deliberately concealed the negative results of a blood test, the only physical evidence linking Taylor to the scene of the murder of Jacquetta Thomas.
The suit is the latest lawsuit against the SBI or its agents that could cost state taxpayers and insurers millions.
Former death row inmate Alan Gell won a $3.9 million settlement from the SBI in 2009. The state is fighting a civil claim by Floyd Brown, a mentally retarded man who was locked away at Dorothea Dix Hospital because of a confession fabricated by an SBI agent, the lawsuit says.
The SBI has been under the microscope for 17 months.
A three-judge panel exonerated Taylor in February 2010; afterward, Attorney General Roy Cooper hired an independent auditor who found related problems in more than 200 cases involving blood evidence. In August, The News & Observer reported that bureau agents had bullied the vulnerable and that lab analysts had pushed past the bounds of science in helping seek convictions.
Deaver was fired last fall. Cooper replaced the bureau director and director of the SBI's crime lab last summer.
Taylor's lawsuit targets Deaver and Joseph Taub, an agent who helped prepare the report in the Taylor case.
Taylor also sued three former supervisors: Mark Nelson, Ralph Keaton and Harold Elliott. Keaton is now the director of ASCLD-LAB, the nation's leading accrediting agency of crime labs. Nelson is now a senior program manager at the National Institute of Justice in Washington.
"Nelson knew that Deaver, Taub and other SBI agents frequently misrepresented the results of blood tests, falsely reporting that tests were positive for the presence of blood, when confirmatory tests were in fact negative," the lawsuit said. "Nelson encouraged, condoned and approved this practice."
Deaver's lawyers said they had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
"But we continue to wonder how Duane can be sued for this when he did not testify at Greg Taylor's trial nor did he have any control over what documents the SBI did or did not provide to the district attorney," said Philip Miller, a Raleigh lawyer.
Keaton, Nelson, Taub and Elliott could not be reached for comment.
At the heart of Taylor's wrongful conviction was misleading blood evidence produced by the SBI.
Jurors repeatedly heard at Taylor's 1993 trial that his SUV was stained with blood. Prosecutors' claims were based on a preliminary blood test; Deaver did not testify.
Taylor always maintained his innocence. In 2009, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission gave him the go-ahead to take his claim to a three-judge panel with powers to exonerate him.
Taylor and his lawyers then learned that the SBI had not reported negative blood tests.
Preliminary tests on the stain on Taylor's SUV indicated the substance might be blood. At the lab, Deaver ran subsequent tests to confirm whether it was blood. The results were negative.
Deaver and Taub did not report those negative results to prosecutors. None of those tests or results were presented in Deaver's report to prosecutors. His summation: Taylor's truck offered chemical indications for the presence of blood.
In February 2010, at the hearing in which Taylor was exonerated, Deaver testified that his reporting method was sound. He said bosses told him to do it that way.
Deaver was telling the truth.
The audit commissioned by Roy Cooper revealed 229 cases with similar reporting flaws. In those cases, analysts indicated that the substance gave chemical indications for the presence of blood when in fact confirmatory tests found otherwise.
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