Ex-SBI agent Deaver's testimony could lead to reviews

Ex-SBI agent Duane Deaver's testimony in several murder cases could lead to reviews.

jneff@newsobserver.comJanuary 1, 2012 

  • During the Michael Peterson hearing, an SBI agent testified that a thorough search of SBI records revealed that Deaver worked 54 bloodstain pattern cases during his career. An investigator for Peterson said Deaver had given opinions in 36 cases. It was unclear in how many of these 36 cases Deaver testified. Here's a look at Deaver's testimony on the subject.

    Number of bloodstain pattern analysis cases

    1996, State v. Angel Guevara: "I couldn't even begin to number. It is in the hundreds. I'm constantly being asked to do that. I have no way to even count them."

    2001, State v. Sharoid Wright: "I don't know the exact number, but it would be in the hundreds."

    2001, State v. Fernando Garcia: "I don't know for sure. It would be in the hundreds."

    2003. State v. Michael Peterson: "I don't know for sure, but it would be somewhere around 200 that I have written reports on myself."

    Number of times testified

    1996, Guevara: "It has been well over 50 times."

    2001, Wright: "It would be probably somewhere close to a hundred."

    2001, Garcia: "It would be over 50 times."

    2003, Peterson: "It would be approximately 60 times."

Duane Deaver's work paved the path for Michael Peterson's new trial. His testimony also could force another look at the sentences of several other convicted murderers.

Judge Orlando Hudson ruled last month that the former State Bureau of Investigation agent delivered "perjured testimony" in Peterson's 2003 murder trial, where he was qualified as an expert and testified about why he believed Kathleen Peterson died from a beating. Peterson, the former novelist convicted of killing his wife, is out of prison and headed for a new trial, pending the state's appeal.

Three cases examined by The News & Observer show conduct by Deaver similar to that presented during Peterson's hearing in December: Deaver exaggerating his experience as a bloodstain pattern analyst and using methods that experts deemed unacceptable.

In one Wake County capital murder case, Deaver testified that he discarded the measurements and notes that formed the basis for his expert opinion - conduct an expert called "totally insane."

The cases, two of them involving inmates on North Carolina's death row, do not involve questions of innocence. But Deaver's testimony was important in helping convince jurors that the defendants committed first-degree murder - which requires proof that the crime was deliberate and planned - or that their crime was brutal enough to deserve the death penalty.

Lawyers for the killers likely will file challenges.

David Rudolf, Peterson's lawyer, investigated some of Deaver's work and methods in preparing for Peterson's hearing. He has written to state Attorney General Roy Cooper, asking Cooper to open an independent investigation into bloodstain pattern analysis cases worked by Deaver and the SBI agents he trained.

Rudolf noted that in 2010 Cooper suspended the work of the SBI's bloodstain pattern analysts and confirmed that there were no written policies or procedures to govern them. The SBI eventually ended its bloodstain pattern analysis.

"All of this occurred before the evidence introduced during the Peterson hearings this month, which indicate the problems with Deaver and bloodstain analysis by the SBI are far deeper than was previously known," Rudolf wrote.

Cooper responded late last week in a letter to Rudolf, saying the internal investigation into Deaver has not stopped.

"The SBI director has informed me that the SBI is continuing this investigation into Agent Deaver's other cases and blood spatter cases in general and the SBI would be glad to accept any information which you believe would be helpful to them," Cooper wrote. "In the past, I have not hesitated to utilize outside expertise when it is warranted and I will continue to monitor these matters to determine if it is necessary."

Deaver, 52, worked for the SBI for more than 20 years before being fired last January. He has a degree in zoology, and had two outside courses in bloodstain pattern analysis. He had never joined major associations of professionals who worked in that field.

Over the past two years, a barrage of damaging information has emerged about Deaver. A Wake County man, Greg Taylor, was exonerated of murder based in large part on Deaver's work in the case. Taylor's exoneration led Cooper to contract an independent review of the lab's reporting of blood test results.

That review by former senior FBI officials found more than 200 cases where official SBI lab reports did not reflect the results obtained in the lab. It singled out Deaver as the analyst in the most troubling cases.

In August 2010, as The News & Observer was about to publish a series about problems with Deaver and other SBI agents, Cooper ended the work of SBI bloodstain pattern analysts who were trained and led by Deaver.

Deaver's attorney, Philip Isley, said his client has done nothing wrong and deserves his job back. "I disagree with Judge Hudson's decision" in the Peterson case, Isley said.

Untested science

Rudolf identified at least seven capital cases where Deaver testified about bloodstains. One was George Goode, whose death sentence was commuted to life by a federal judge who in 2009 found Deaver gave false and misleading testimony in 1993.

A review of the transcripts of three murder cases shows similarities to Deaver's conduct in the Peterson case. In each of the cases, Deaver repeated his claims about his bloodstain experience - numbers discredited by an internal SBI investigation.

In 2001, Deaver testified in the Wake County death penalty case of Sharoid Wright, who was sentenced to life in prison for stabbing a friend to death.

Wright testified at trial that he was drinking malt liquor and smoking marijuana in a Raleigh park with his friend, Roshaun Floyd. They began arguing over who should accept blame for robberies they committed the day before in Orange and Chatham counties, and started fighting. Wright testified that he was losing the fight and pulled out a knife and stabbed Floyd repeatedly.

Wright said he began driving Floyd to WakeMed hospital but panicked and dumped him on the side of Interstate 40 instead.

Deaver's expert testimony contradicted Wright. Deaver testified that he found a pattern of six droplets on the inside roof of a car, above the driver's seat. Deaver said he was able to measure the droplets and identify the precise "point of origin" of the spatter, where the weapon came into contact with the blood: "four inches forward of the back of the door, three inches inside of the automobile, and two and a half inches down from the top of automobile."

That led Deaver to conclude that at least two blows were struck in the driver's seat. That indicated Floyd was stabbed in his car, contradicting Wright's account of a fight in the park and supporting a verdict of first-degree murder.

The concept of "point of origin" has long been unacceptable in bloodstain pattern analysis, said national expert Tom Bevel, who testified at Peterson's hearing. There is no way to look at bloodstains and arrive at a precise point in space, he said. The accepted term is an area in space - for example, a sphere-shaped area with a diameter of 12 inches.

On cross-examination, Wright's lawyer, John Britt, asked Deaver for the measurements he used to calculate that precise point of origin.

Deaver didn't have the measurements and couldn't remember them.

"Our policy is that we take our notes and when our - when our report comes back, we throw our notes away, and they were destroyed."

Britt was skeptical: "You make a report and destroy the data that you use to generate the report?"

"Yes sir."

"And that's your policy?"

"Well, they were notes," Deaver said. "I mean, yeah."

SBI Director Greg McLeod backed that up last week.

"From 1999-2004, Agents were authorized to destroy handwritten notes only after they verified that their final reports accurately reflected the notes, including all exculpatory information," McLeod said in a written statement.

Stuart James, one of the country's foremost bloodstain pattern experts, said he was appalled when he read Deaver's testimony.

"It's totally insane," James said. "He's throwing away scientific data so no one can go back and replicate his work."

At trial, Wright's lawyers questioned whether Deaver could be certain that the tiny stains were indeed blood.

"Based on my experience, they're blood, and I've looked thousands and thousands and thousands of stains," Deaver said.

But Deaver acknowledged he could not be certain. He had never tested the stains.

Inflated experience

Deaver's testimony at Wright's trial caught the attention of other Wake County prosecutors, who called on him to do some last-minute work during the death-penalty phase of the trial of Fernando Garcia, who beat a Raleigh woman to death in a North Raleigh apartment complex.

"It was only after seeing you testify in State vs. Sharoid Wright days earlier that we determined that the evidence missing in our presentation could be overcome with your knowledge and your ability to educate a jury on blood spatter," prosecutor Susan Spurlin wrote later in a letter. "We thank you and credit you with the presentation at sentencing that gave us the evidence to convince a jury that Fernando Garcia is not worthy of another chance in society."

Garcia did not deny killing Juliann Bolt, a stranger who was exercising in the apartment clubhouse. Garcia told police he forced her at gunpoint into a bathroom and tried to rape her. When she fought back, kicking him, Garcia told police that he lost control.

He beat her so badly that first responders thought she had been shot.

Deaver testified in the sentencing phase, when the jury chose to sentence Garcia to death instead of life in prison. After inflating his credentials and being qualified as an expert, Deaver testified that the blood stains showed the attack was sustained and that Bolt was conscious through much of it.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who presided at the trial, said he thought Deaver's testimony in the Garcia case was probably not that important to the jury, given the viciousness of the assault.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said it was unlikely that he would reinvestigate the Wright or Garcia cases unless a defense attorney files a challenge.

'It is like voodoo'

Deaver also testified at the 1996 trial of Angel Guevara, who was sentenced to death for the 1995 killing of Paul West, a Johnston County sheriff's deputy.

Thomas Manning, Guevara's defense attorney, objected to Deaver testifying as an expert, calling him a "purported expert" with a "purported opinion" whose scientific conclusions were based on obscure and vague foundations. "It is like voodoo," Manning said. His objections were overruled.

Guevara testified that he shot West and beat him with a rifle butt and the deputy's pistol after the deputy entered his home without a warrant. Guevara testified that the second and fatal shot occurred when he and West were struggling over the rifle.

Deaver testified again about the "points of origin" of two bloodstains. The first, 27 inches off the floor and eight inches from a wall, was consistent with a beating. The second, a fine mist low on the wall, indicated West was shot at close range while lying on his back, Deaver said.

Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said the case against Guevara was overwhelming, including ballistics, hair and fiber evidence, eyewitness testimony by a second deputy and Guevara's testimony. "The testimony of SBI Agent Duane Deaver was not critical to the prosecution," Doyle said.

But SBI agent David McDougal praised Deaver's work in a 1995 letter put into Deaver's personnel file: "Duane took time last Wednesday to do a bloodstain examination which will be an important part of the evidence entered in this case as it proves one deputy was beaten while he was on his hands and knees prior to being shot execution style."

Neff: 919-829-4516

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