Former SBI agent Duane Deaver will challenge firing at hearing

jneff@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2014 

Years after he was fired from the State Bureau of Investigation following a deluge of critical news articles, former agent Duane Deaver is going to tell his story in court this week as he challenges his termination.

“This is the first time his story will be told,” Philip Isley, one of Deaver’s lawyers, said Wednesday. “I think he’s a scapegoat in this case subjected to a witch hunt.”

Deaver was fired in 2011 after a series of messy court cases, including the exoneration of Greg Taylor, who spent 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Deaver failed to report the result of blood tests helpful to Taylor; a judge also ruled that Deaver committed perjury in the 2003 murder trial of Durham novelist Michael Peterson, who was awarded a new trial.

And in 2010, an audit of the SBI laboratory found more than 200 cases with improper reporting of blood tests. The five most serious cases were handled by Deaver, according to the report.

But there will be little discussion of those issues this week in the small courtroom of the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, which hears appeals from people aggrieved by actions of state agencies. The SBI cited three reasons for firing him, only one of which went to the heart of the criminal cases in question:

• He was charged with criminal contempt for statements made to members of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in the Taylor case. An SBI investigation did not support the charges.

• Deaver consulted on a case from Henderson County while on leave when he was being investigated; he also endorsed sending the confidential report to an outside agency that was not authorized to receive the information.

• In a video in which Deaver helped conduct a bloodstain pattern experiment, Deaver is heard saying “That’s a wrap, baby” after his fellow agent manages to replicate a stain on a T-shirt. SBI officials said the comment was unprofessional and hurt the credibility of the SBI for the jury in a Davie County murder trial. Deaver was not fired for the underlying experiment, which many bloodstain pattern experts have derided as pointless and unscientific.

The small courtroom was packed Wednesday with retired and current SBI personnel, some to support Deaver and others to testify in favor of his firing. Former Director Robin Pendergraft gave testimony Wednesday sympathetic to Deaver; on Thursday, current SBI Director Greg McLeod will testify in support of firing him. And Deaver himself is likely to take the stand Friday in his attempt to regain his job with back pay.

Isley characterized the firing as political, following a spate of negative publicity about the SBI’s bloodstain pattern analysis, the actions of some of its agents and policies in its lab that favored prosecutors instead of neutral science.

“He was toxic, akin to plutonium,” Isley said.

Pendergraft questioned some of the reasons cited for Deaver’s firing.

She said Deaver should not have been fired because of an allegation that the agent lied or supplied misleading information to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. An SBI investigation failed to sustain the allegation.

Asked about Deaver’s “that’s a wrap” comment, Pendergraft said it was “unprofessional” but not cause for firing in and of itself.

Deaver, 54, worked for 27 years at the bureau.

Neff: 919-829-4516

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