The North Carolina justice system shook as an audit commissioned by Attorney General Roy Cooper found that the State Bureau of Investigation withheld or distorted evidence in more than 200 cases at the expense of potentially innocent men and women, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. The full impact of the disclosure will reverberate for years to come as prosecutors and defense attorneys re-examine cases as much as two decades old to figure out whether these errors robbed defendants of justice. Some injustices can be addressed as attorneys bring old cases back to court. For others, it’s too late: Three of the defendants in botched cases have been executed.
“This report is troubling,” said Cooper, who oversees the SBI. “It describes a practice that should have been unacceptable then and is not acceptable now.” Former FBI agent Chris Swecker said his findings signal potential violations of the U.S. Constitution and North Carolina laws by withholding information favorable to defendants. He stopped short of determining whether the hidden results affected guilt or innocence in the cases he examined; often there was other evidence in the cases that linked defendants to the crimes. Still, the withheld information could have made a difference in the sentences handed down. “This is mind-boggling,” said veteran Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory. “It is really a nightmare for everyone. I don’t know how we are going to make this right.”