The Raleigh News & Observer reports that its review of a 1999 murder prosecution of a high school dropout named Derrick Michael Allen offers a sobering look at questionable forensic work by the State Bureau of Investigation. In the case, prosecutors trumpeted two powerful pieces of evidence: a pair of blood-stained panties and bloody pajamas, certified as such in an SBI lab report. But records show that the SBI performed tests on the clothing three times, and all tests were negative for blood. A blistering audit made public Aug. 18 says that SBI lab agents misstated or overstated blood test results from 1987 until 2003, when their methods changed with new testing procedures.
A series of reports by the News & Observer this summer showed that lab analysts have bent rules and pushed past the bounds of accepted science to deliver reports that bolstered prosecutors’ cases. The newspaper reports and the audit have jolted the state’s justice system, raised the possibility of constitutional violations against defendants and prompted court officials to begin reviewing dozens of homicide, rape, assault and other cases. The questioned lab work doesn’t mean that suspects, including Allen, are innocent. But it could undermine how convictions were won or guilty pleas reached. In some cases it likely affected the types of charges leveled and the punishments handed down.