RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina's attorney general on Friday ordered an independent review of the state's crime lab following revelations about practices that led to a groundbreaking exoneration of a man wrongly accused of murder.
Attorney General Roy Cooper told The Associated Press that two former assistant directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation will review the practices of the lab, managed by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). The review of cases dating to the 1990s will begin in about a week, he said.
"An outside review is important for the integrity of the process and public confidence in the work of the SBI lab," Cooper said.
The lab's practices were a critical issue in the case of Greg Taylor, who served more than 16 years behind bars for the murder of a prostitute in Raleigh before he was exonerated last month.
Taylor filed a request Friday for a pardon with Gov. Beverly Perdue. He's eligible for $750,000 in compensation if she grants a pardon based on innocence. Perdue did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
"I believe that if people are calling that crime lab into question then there is a need to have an audit of those records then it should be done independently," Taylor said. "I would hope that the problem is not as big as maybe it possibly could be, but I think it's important to find out how big it is."
The independent investigators will review SBI crime lab cases and practices from the early 1990s and current methods, Cooper said.
"Clearly, I was concerned about what I heard and if there were any deficiencies, in the crime lab, then or now, then they have to be fixed," Cooper said.
The two who will review the lab are Mike Wolf, who led an inspection team that fixed problems at the FBI crime lab in 1998 and 1999, and Chris Swecker, who was in charge of nine FBI divisions, including the science and forensic lab divisions. Swecker, an attorney, also is a former FBI special agent in charge for North Carolina.
During Taylor's innocence hearing, an SBI agent testified that agents were told to write in lab reports that evidence gave chemical indications for the presence of blood when the first test for blood came back positive. Agent Duane Deaver said agents were told to use that language even when a follow-up test was negative.
The information about a negative follow-up test would be part of an agent's notes, but wasn't included in the lab reports routinely provided to courts, Deaver said.
SBI Director Robin Pendergraft later confirmed the testimony.
One of Taylor's attorneys praised Cooper's decision.
"An independent review is the only type of review that can give the public confidence," said Chris Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.
The outside review will run concurrently with an internal review that Cooper ordered last week. Cooper said he will make the results public.