Skip to comments.Scathing crime lab report puts pressure on North Carolina AG (DukeLax tie-in)
Posted on 08/22/2010 5:35:46 AM PDT by abb
A blistering report this week identifying how North Carolina's state crime laboratory workers misrepresented blood evidence in dozens of cases over 16 years covered only two of Roy Cooper's years as attorney general.
But it's all Cooper's task to clean up the problems at the State Bureau of Investigation lab and overcome questions about its work. The Democrat faces a long road back to restoring trust in the lab that helps state and local law enforcement.
The lab will need to regain faith from attorneys and the public, as well as the lawmakers who approve funding for the lab and its crime-fighting tools.
"It is credibility that's going to have to be earned back," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, an attorney who once represented a man exonerated in 2001 when DNA evidence proved him innocent of a rape for which he had been imprisoned. "There are going to have to be a lot of folks working to regain the public's trust and the system's trust of the forensic results coming out of the lab."
Cooper has been a popular state leader who won re-election handily in 2008 and whose name floats often as a candidate for governor and U.S. Senate. He was praised for his handling of the Duke lacrosse case. His future in elections and working with the General Assembly may hang on whether he carries out reforms in the independent review, and even goes beyond them.
"Cooper has done a good job as attorney general, and this is a crisis that he had to solve," said Jack Cozort, a state government lobbyist and ex-appeals court judge who began in Democratic politics in 1971 working in former Gov. Jim Hunt's first statewide campaign. "If he doesn't solve and deal with it wisely and efficiently, it could be an issue for him in the next election."
An independent review of blood testing performed in the lab from 1987 to 2003 found 190 cases in which suspects were charged but the final lab report omitted evidence that contradicted preliminary tests indicating blood at a scene. Three of the 190 cases resulted in executions. Four other people convicted are on death row. The report doesn't conclude, however, that innocent people were convicted.
Cooper asked for the review in March after an SBI agent testified the crime lab once had a policy of excluding complete blood test results from reports offered to defense lawyers before trials. That testimony led to February's exoneration of Greg Taylor, who had served 17 years for a murder conviction.
Cooper faced the criticism squarely Wednesday, listening in person to a former FBI leader and lab expert detail omitted or misrepresented results that could have led to confessions or pleas because more favorable evidence may have been hidden.
Cooper took questions and said all the report's recommendations would be implemented by new SBI director Greg McLeod. His office also announced late last week the lab director would be replaced.
"It is important that lessons are learned even though most of these things occurred in the (1980s) or '90s," he told reporters. "You have to be careful that no vestiges of these problems remain."
Previous attorneys general Lacy Thornburg and Mike Easley oversaw the SBI lab during most of the period covered by the review. But lawyers and other more partisan critics of the SBI have questioned why it took this long for Cooper - now in his 10th year as attorney general - to find the problems.
"He's got a lot of explaining to do, and I'm not sure he can explain all of this," state Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer said, suggesting that the issues should be front and center if Cooper seeks re-election in 2012 from a GOP challenger or even a primary opponent. "Cooper certainly had the chance to rectify some of these issues."
He already made changes before the report came out. Cooper replaced Robin Pendergraft, his choice to run the SBI for months after he took office in January 2001, with McLeod, who was Cooper's legislative lobbyist.
Lawmakers said the best way to restore confidence in the lab's actions would be to make the state's crime lab an agency independent from the Department of Justice that Cooper runs.
"It appears from this report that it went just beyond human error," said Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, a lawyer and critic of Cooper's successful effort at the Legislature last month to expand DNA testing to some crime suspects. "Is this an independent, unbiased lab, or is it to be used as a tool for the prosecution?"
Cooper said Wednesday "everything should be on the table" but qualified that he wouldn't support changes that he said would harm police in fighting crime.
Cooper, a 52-year-old Rocky Mount native, has had a good relationship with the General Assembly, where he served for 14 years in both the House and Senate.
He's usually gotten what he wants on tougher laws to protect children against Internet predators, meth dealers and identity thieves - all areas that have benefited attorneys general elsewhere with voters. He's also received funding to upgrade the crime lab, which uses more modern blood testing compared to what the review examined.
Cooper received widespread praise for handling another high-profile crisis. In 2007, he tossed out charges against three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape and declared them innocent after problems with the local prosecutor's case.
In the lab review, it's now Cooper who will be on the defensive.
"You're thrown softballs by political issues and events, and you're able to hit them out," said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "Here's an issue where it's gone the other way around he's been served up a real fastball."
It ain't pretty, and Attorney General Roy Cooper is getting roughed up badly.
See the next story for the tie-in to the DukeLax Frame.
It appears the NandO is FINALLY doing some real reporting for a change.
A former prosecutor said ramifications from the
report, authored by two former FBI agents, could be
more damaging to the state’s criminal justice system
than the Duke lacrosse affair.
Shades of Nifong
The Duke lacrosse case hinged on a similar
decision to withhold evidence.
District Attorney Mike Nifong was disbarred and
eventually spent a day in jail for failing to provide
DNA evidence to defense attorneys representing
lacrosse players from Duke University charged with
raping a woman.
The lab results showed that other men, but none of
the suspects, had been in contact with the woman.
Add North Carolina to the list along with Tennessee, New York, California, Washington and Colorado state crime labs....
Oh yeah and the wonderful FBI crime lab
Anyone see a pattern here?
Long ago we said that the Duke Lacrosse Frame could not have happened without there being a “culture of corruption” in the North Carolina justice system.
This proves it.
Be very careful what is said, NC state troopers are watching.
In cases like these, the Nifong type offenders should be subject to the same amount of jail time as they were trying to impose on those they were unjustly trying to convict. This kind of crap would end in an instant.
Additionally, all attorneys involved in any court hearings should be subject to the same court rules as any average citizen compelled to give testemony. Isn't it strange the only ones speaking in a court room who are not under oath are the attorneys and the Judge?
Well, when your legislature has been Democrat since 1868, there’s bound to be some corruption.
LOL, I'll tell them just what I tell all the Louisiana politicians I write about in my local blog - I'm in the phone book.
And I'm wondering why.
Excellent point. I never realized that.
As I was doing my morning posting to the Liestoppers BB on the DukeLax Frame, I had that exact same thought. I would like to think that us hard-core DukeLax case followers who post and debate daily on that site finally wore the NandO down and shamed them into doing some real reporting.
Or it could have been they finally decided they had two choices - do reporting or go out of business.
Whatever made them do it, it is welcome.
Something is happening in the belly of the beast. Combine this with the story from Cleveland and it appears some reporters may actually be trying to do their job.
FWIW, I'll wait 'til I understand their motivation :)
A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.
That’s not exactly right. Lawyers aren’t put under oath during the trial, but as “officers of the court” they are required to uphold their oath of office. If they lie or mislead they are subject to penalties (including disbarment and jail time). Judges are a little more complicated - usually there’s a commission that investigates corrupt judges. And yes, judges do get removed and lawyers get disbarred.
Andy Taylor? Isn’t he the sheriff in Mayberry?
Working a Louisiana story for my local blog on that very subject.
We lost a judge this week.
Ralph Boone? I subscribe to emails from y’all politics. That sort of keeps me up on Mississippi politics.
I think that there has to be some room for debate - and I REALLY don’t think it is a good idea for a defense atty. to be required to “tell the whole truth.”