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."
This has the chance to discredit police and set murderers free (along with the innocents who have been wrongly convicted based on this corruption). Trust me, the news couldn't care less about the innocent (outside the damage this does to the justice system)... they are overjoyed that criminals have a chance to beat the rap...
There is no North Carolina “justice system.” It is a collection of black-robed Mafia Dons, along with gun-toting knee-cappers who masquerade as cops. And they are aided by lawyers who use it as a revolving money machine to extract tribute from a public who is too intimidated to fight back.
For over four years (ever since The Duke Lacrosse Frame blew up) I have carefully kept up with North Carolina’s set up. Long ago I concluded that Louisiana’s justice system is cleaner and more honest that that of North Carolina.
And that’s saying something.
Yes, but who watches the hen house? They are only beholden to the Bar and who controlls the Bar? Look at how long it took the Duke LX kids to get aquitted of their charges, and how much money was spent by their families defending them against a stacked deck.
I have said it before and will contine to do so. The judicial system in this country has gone from what was intended to be the forum to decide right from wrong. Sadly it has turned into nothing more than a life support system to the barrister class.
As a litigant in a civil case or two, I always wondered what business it was of the court as to how much each side had paid or agreed to pay their attorneys before a judgement is given. It should have no pertinence to the case and it should be a post judgement issue to determine who pays what based from the decision.
If this is true and the Prosecutors involved knew about it they should be indicted on charges of Murder in the First Degree.
I live in Raleigh and have been reading this series. It’s by Joe Neff who is the reporter who finally got the N&O on the straight and narrow about Mangum and Nifong.
And interestingly enough, the NC SBI DNA’s report said there was no DNA on Mangum. It was why Nifong went and hired (at taxpayer expense) a private lab that could run a more sensitive test.
It’s simple. As far as the bleeding heart N&O is concerned, almost everyone is falsely imprisoned. If they can get some guilty people out of jail they’ll be happy. Every time I hear a falsely imprisoned man has been freed, I celebrate. However, my happiness is destroyed by the realization that some other man got away with it.
I’m optimistic that this thing will help collapse the house of cards that is the North Carolina ‘justice system.’
Some Crime Lab—sitting around all day with their thumbs up their asses!
They should all go to jail.
“Forensic science” is largely a joke to begin with. Aside from DNA identification, which was developed by actual scientists, most areas of forensic science were developed by cops, with predictable results. Ballistic matching, “hair and fibers”, blood spatter analysis, and even fingerprinting have little basis in actual science.
Yet, because of shows like CSI, juries take forensic evidence as gospel. Hopefully, stories like this will lead to a wider re-examination of our criminal justice system’s reliance on junk science.
They sure didn’t teach me that in law school.
I like how about half the space in this article is given to protecting Roy Cooper’s reputation.
Forensic evidence in and of itself is not “gospel”. However, it is used to build a case to beyond the point of “reasonable doubt”. One fingerprint won’t get someone convicted, but couple it with hair, footprints, tire tracks, unique clothes fibers, etc., etc., and you can be “reasonably certain” that someone has done a crime. It is most certainly NOT a “joke”.
Exept, apparently, in the case of my own state’s blood analysis lab.