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 review 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 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, stating 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 Wednesday. "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 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 Wednesday 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.
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.
Michael Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
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. It recommends looking at cases that were overstated or falsely reported to determine whether mistakes were deliberate, negligent or the results of typographical errors or confusion over reporting policy. There was no written policy until 1997, according to Swecker.
"Before that, how analysts reported results depended on the analyst's subjective judgment," he said.
The lab's operations have changed substantially since 2003, when it began using more modern blood testing. Prosecutors also now have online access to all lab files, and can make them available to defense attorneys.
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. His notes indicate that he got a negative result because he didn't have enough sample left for the confirmatory test.
In three other cases, the review said Deaver's reports stated further tests were "inconclusive" or "no result" while his lab notes reflected negative results.
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 didn't return a message left at his office, and nobody came to the door of his home Wednesday afternoon.
Swecker and co-author Mike Wolf reported they couldn't determine how Deaver's mistakes happened, and they leave open the possibility that he didn't purposely misreport results.
Attorney David Rudolf, who has represented clients who have sued the SBI, said new trials should be given in all cases in which Deaver's testimony played a significant role.
"Justice is the cornerstone of our society, and it can't be done on the cheap," he said in an e-mail.
Cooper said new SBI Director Greg McLeod is implementing the report's recommendations, including the 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.
In addition to the Deaver cases, the review found 35 cases where a report states there were indications of blood and that no further testing was done. But handwritten lab notes reflect confirmatory tests got negative or inconclusive results.
In a third category, the review found 105 cases in which reports omitted negative or inconclusive results, instead saying there were chemical indications for the presence of blood.
The review found 85 cases in the least serious category, which involved reports that didn't mention negative or inconclusive confirmatory tests but did ultimately state that the presence of blood wasn't conclusive. In 80 of the cases, just one agent used the language.
Associated Press Writers Gary D. Robertson and Mike Baker contributed to this report.
Online: Review of SBI forensic laboratory: http://tiny.cc/znrz7