FBI standards would have helped Taylor in 1991

jneff@newsobserver.comOctober 19, 2013 

Greg Taylor and his lawyers say the way Duane Deaver reported results of lab tests hid the results that would have helped show Taylor’s innocence. Attorney General Roy Cooper agreed, as did the three-judge panel that exonerated Taylor, the governor who pardoned him and the insurance companies that agreed to a $4.625 million settlement.

In 2010, the controversy over the Taylor case and others worried the officials at ASCLD/LAB, the Garner-based organization that accredits the nation’s crime labs, as well as ASCLD, the trade association for crime lab directors. Officials from both groups were regulars at the General Assembly, defending the SBI.

They argued that everyone used that language back then. According to a 2011 ASCLD/LAB position paper, “The wording of reports issued for blood screening test results was consistent with the wording commonly used by forensic laboratories in the United States during this era.”

Taylor’s lawyers repeatedly asked ASCLD/LAB for the research and documents behind this assertion. ASCLD/LAB produced nothing.

Ralph Keaton is the director of ASCLD/LAB. He was also the deputy assistant director at the SBI lab in 1991 when the evidence was tested in Greg Taylor’s case. In May, Keaton testified that the 2011 assertion was correct: “It’s my understanding that the vast majority and my knowledge that the vast majority of laboratories at that time used language very, very similar to what North Carolina used.”

That may be true, but no one has done a comprehensive survey of 1991 reporting standards; many states, such as North Carolina, did not have written manuals. Taylor’s lawyers dug up manuals from the FBI, Texas and Connecticut that showed those labs using much clearer and definitive language.

By their standards, Taylor’s lawyers would have been alerted to additional tests that contradicted the presumptive test.

In his deposition, Keaton insisted that the FBI used language identical to the SBI: “I have talked with people who worked in the FBI laboratory during that era and they were reporting exactly like North Carolina was.”

Asked the source of that information, Keaton identified Melissa Smrz, a former FBI assistant lab director who now works at ASCLD.

But in 2010, when Smrz was deputy assistant director at the FBI lab, she told an entirely different version to retired FBI agents auditing the SBI’s lab practices. Smrz provided the FBI manual, dated 1987, that showed how to report the results of a positive presumptive test followed by a negative confirmatory test: “A presumptive chemical test for the possible presence of blood was positive. ... However, the presence of blood could not be confirmed.”

Keaton did not return phone calls and emails for comment.

Neff: 919-829-4516

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