Duane Deaver doesn’t testify as job hearing ends

jneff@newsobserver.comApril 4, 2014 

A three-day hearing into the 2011 firing of State Bureau of Investigation agent Duane Deaver ended Friday without testimony from the man seeking to regain his job.

Deaver did not take the stand; neither he nor his lawyers commented afterward.

The veteran SBI agent was fired in 2011 after a series of messy court cases, including the 2010 exoneration of Greg Taylor, who spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. A three-judge panel declared Taylor innocent after hearing evidence that Deaver failed to report the result of a blood test favorable to Taylor.

In the absence of Deaver’s testimony at the hearing, Administrative Law Judge Jim Conner heard Deaver’s story through the voices of current and former SBI employees, as well as state Attorney General Roy Cooper’s chief of staff.

SBI Director Greg McLeod testified in support of his decision to fire Deaver. His predecessor, Robin Pendergraft, sympathized with Deaver.

If Deaver is given his job back, the state has signaled that it will immediately sack him again.

In December 2011, after Deaver was fired, a state judge in Durham found that Deaver committed perjury in the 2003 murder trial of Durham novelist Michael Peterson, who was awarded a new trial.

Reservations about firing

On Friday, a former SBI supervisor testified that he had reservations before firing Deaver but concluded that Deaver’s conduct rose to the level of dismissal.

“I had reservations about whether it rose to the level of termination,” retired SBI Assistant Director Marshall Tucker said.

McLeod, the director, rejected his disciplinary recommendation and made the final decision to fire Deaver, Tucker said.

“I think the conduct did support termination,” Tucker said. “It was a close call.”

Tucker was Deaver’s direct supervisor and wrote the 2011 letter firing him.

Tucker said the decision to fire Deaver weighs on him to this day.

“It was a difficult decision,” he said. “I supported the director’s decision and executed it.”

The SBI’s reasons

Deaver’s lawyers spent the three days trying to discredit the three reasons cited by the SBI in his letter of termination:

• Deaver was charged with criminal contempt for statements made to members of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in the Taylor case. The SBI had conducted an internal investigation into whether Deaver had committed perjury before the commission. That investigation failed to sustain the complaint after a majority of commissioners and staff said they were not concerned by Deaver’s testimony.

• Deaver consulted on a case from Henderson County while on leave when he was being investigated; he also endorsed sending a 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.

As is typical in administrative hearings, a recommended decision from Conner is at least a month or more away. Conner’s decision will be advisory; a final decision will be made by the State Personnel Commission. That decision can be appealed as well.

Neff: 919-829-4516

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