Under the Dome

GOP ad slams Cooper over crime lab

The Republican Governors Association is out with a new anti-Roy Cooper ad, this one blaming the Democratic attorney general for widespread problems in the State Crime Lab several years ago. Cooper is running against GOP Gov. Pat McCrory.

At the time, the crime lab was part of the State Bureau of Investigation under the state Department of Justice. In 2013, the Republican-led legislature separated the SBI from the crime lab, and the following year moved the statewide law enforcement agency from under Cooper’s control into the McCrory administration’s Department of Public Safety.

The crime lab remains under the attorney general’s control. The spot picks up on the McCrory campaign theme that Cooper is not doing his job.

“Under Cooper, SBI’s lab withheld or distorted evidence in hundreds of cases leading to wrongful convictions and criminals going unpunished,” the commercial says. “Under Roy Cooper, the SBI was tainted by shoddy investigations and a staggering lack of competence at the lab.

“The state had to take SBI away from Cooper’s management.”

“This false ad is nothing but a Hail Mary from a campaign already on the ropes,” Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said. “There is no doubt that an independent SBI would be investigating allegations that the McCrory administration intentionally misled families about the safety of their water. But the SBI now reports to Governor McCrory – and he is desperate for a distraction so voters don’t get wise. North Carolina families deserve better.”

In 2010, an audit Cooper commissioned revealed that the SBI withheld or distorted evidence in 230 cases at the expense of potentially innocent men and women. All but 11 of those cases were closed before Cooper took office in 2001.

The SBI and its insurers agreed to pay nearly $12.5 million in 2013 to two innocent men who spent a total of 31 years behind bars.

In one case, a man with intellectual disabilities alleged an agent fabricated his confession in 1993. In the second, an agent in the crime lab failed to report the results of lab tests favorable to a man who spent 17 years in prison; the man has since been declared innocent.

In 2009, the SBI and its insurers agreed to pay $3.9 million to a former death row inmate who spent nine years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. Those cases were also before Cooper took office.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO