Review Finds Flaws in N.C. Prosecutions

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2010 file pool photo, Greg Taylor reacts as hears the decision of the N.C. Innocence Commission exonerating him of murder charges as his attorney Christine Mumma sits next to him, in Raleigh, NC. was freed from prison and exonerated after nearly 17 years following a murder conviction. The state agent who testified in Taylor's case is cited in a new, scathing report about the state crime lab and is blamed for five of the most egregious cases that it reviewed. (AP Photo/Shawn Rocco, Pool, File)
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Analysts at North Carolina's crime lab omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in dozens of cases, including three that ended in executions and another where two men were convicted of killing Michael Jordan's father, according to a scathing independent review to be released Wednesday.

The government-ordered inquest by two former FBI officials found that agents of the State Bureau of Investigation repeatedly aided prosecutors in obtaining convictions over a 16-year period, mostly by misrepresenting blood evidence and keeping critical notes from defense attorneys. The Associated Press obtained the review of blood evidence in cases from 1987 to 2003 in advance of the report's release.

It calls for a thorough examination of 190 criminal cases, stating that, at times, "information that may have been material and even favorable to the defense of an accused defendant was withheld or misrepresented."

The report does not conclude that any innocent people were convicted, noting the evidence wasn't always used at trials and defendants may have admitted to crimes. But it states prosecutors and defense lawyers need to check whether tainted lab reports helped lead to confessions or pleas.

Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered 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. The existence of the policy was later confirmed by a former SBI director. Agent Duane Deaver's testimony led to the exoneration of a murder convict imprisoned nearly 17 years.

The review by two former assistant directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, found 230 cases in which eight SBI analysts filed reports that, at best, were incomplete. Of those, 190 resulted in criminal charges and should be reviewed.

The report says the lab may have violated federal and state laws mandating that evidence favorable to defendants be shared with their lawyers. It also bolsters a long-held skepticism by defense attorneys, who have alleged the ostensibly neutral lab is in the pocket of law enforcement.

Besides the executions, the report urged a closer look at the cases of four people on death row and one whose death sentence was commuted to life.

The cases also include the 1993 murder of James Jordan, father of the NBA star, who was sleeping in his car along a highway when he was killed. Two men were sentenced to life in prison. The review states an SBI analyst reported that an examination of the scene indicated the presence of blood, but didn't say that four subsequent tests were inconclusive.

The problems detailed in the report follow similar story lines: Lab results that contradict preliminary tests indicating blood at a scene were routinely kept from defense lawyers. Those secondary results were in analysts' handwritten notes, but not in evidence presented at court.

The report blames the flaws on "poorly crafted policy, inattention to reporting methods which permitted too much analyst subjectivity; and ineffective management and oversight."

Among the report's recommendations are: automation of historical lab files; posting of lab policies and other rules on a public website; and the appointment of an ombudsman to review lab issues or mistakes.