|The cases in question include that of James Jordan (left), who was sleeping in his car alongside a highway when he was killed.|
Inquest finds flaws in N.C. blood evidence
Data reportedly were withheld; impact on cases is under review
RALEIGH, N.C. — 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 in which two men were imprisoned for murdering Michael Jordan’s father, according to a scathing review released yesterday.
The inquest, ordered by the government and conducted 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 review of blood evidence in cases from 1987 to 2003 by two former assistant directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation calls for a thorough examination of 190 criminal cases. It said information that could have helped defendants was sometimes misrepresented or withheld.
“It impacted the decisions that were made — it could have,’’ report author Chris Swecker said yesterday. “Let me step back and make sure you understand: It could have resulted in situations where information that was material and favorable to the defendant was not disclosed.’’
The report does not conclude that innocent people were convicted, noting the evidence wasn’t always used at trials and defendants may have admitted to crimes. But it states that 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.
Cooper said yesterday that he will send the cases cited in the report back to the counties where they were tried for review. “This report is troubling. It describes a practice that should have been unacceptable then and is unacceptable now,’’ he said during a news conference.
The review found 230 cases in which eight SBI analysts filed reports that, at best, were incomplete. Of those, 190 resulted in criminal charges. 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 defense attorneys’ long-held argument that the lab is in the pocket of law enforcement.
Four of the eight analysts named in the report still work at the SBI in some capacity, said the agency’s new director, Greg McLeod. He said an internal review of their work continues.
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 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 contradicted 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 factors including poorly crafted policy and ineffective management.
The lab’s operations have changed substantially since 2003, when it began using more modern blood testing.
Deaver is linked to the five cases the report characterizes as the most egregious violations, and it accuses him of overstating or falsely reporting blood test results, including one in the case against Desmond Keith Carter, who was executed in 2002.
In two of the cases, including Carter’s, Deaver’s final report on blood analyses said his tests “revealed the presence of blood’’ when his notes indicated negative results from follow-up tests.
The attorney general’s office said Carter confessed to the crime, and the evidence in question wasn’t introduced at trial, the report said.
Deaver still works for the SBI, although no longer in the crime lab. He did not return a message left at his office, and nobody came to the door of his home yesterday afternoon.