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Paper Puts Credibility Of SBI In Doubt

Imagine if you were accused of a crime you didn't commit. Let's say it's murder, but there's evidence that could exonerate you. Parts 3 and 4 of the newspaper's series will run Thursday and Saturday in both the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer. You can also find links to the series on WFAE's web site. Well, if you've paid attention to the Raleigh News & Observer this week, you probably don't want that evidence going to the State Bureau of Investigation. The newspaper's investigation of the SBI and its crime lab raises disturbing questions about the credibility of the agency. Just ask Kirk Turner of Davie County. "I think they were trying to build a case against me and not trying to find out what happened," he told the N&O. In 2007, Turner did kill his estranged wife, but he said it was in self-defense after she attacked him with a spear. Prosecutors didn't believe him, but there was a problem. An SBI report contradicted the prosecution's theory that a key piece of blood stain evidence came from a knife. An SBI analyst later changed the report. SBI blood spatter experts then agreed to run tests that one analyst wrote would "shore up" the knife theory. A video shows the SBI's Duane Deaver giving direction on a test that appears designed to get the blood pattern prosecutors wanted. Then, Deaver gives his approval "That's a wrap, baby." Kirk Turner was acquitted of murder. The jury foreman said Turner was a victim of SBI fraud. This is one of the cases highlighted in the News and Observer's investigation. The paper's reporting adds to the questions raised by the case of Greg Taylor, whom the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission exonerated of murder this year after serving 17 years in prison. The Taylor case spurred the newspaper's series led by reporter Mandy Locke. This is her conversation with WFAE's Scott Graf. Click here for the audio. Scott: What was your reaction when you saw that video? Mandy: I think my reaction was like everyone, my mouth just dropped. I mean it's not science. In science you perform as many different tests as you can and see which ones give you various results. You don't perform a test to get the results you want. It's interesting the way we have the crime lab set up in this state. As a matter of fact, the state law says that the lab works for prosecutors. There's nothing in there about truth and making sure that everything is fair. It says that they are to work for prosecution to solve crimes. And so in so doing, they've adopted many policies, which careful reading shows put them squarely in the pockets of prosecution more often than not. Scott: In North Carolina, the blood testing procedures have been heavily criticized by others in the industry. Why haven't those procedures been examined by the state and improved? Mandy: It's tough to know. I think that there have been ample warnings; there have been defense lawyers that have complained for many years. Only in the face of questions from the News and Observer did the attorney general order a full review of the blood spatter analysis unit. In fact, he suspended the work of the blood spatter analysis unit two days after we interviewed the director of the lab and the head of the State Bureau of Investigation, who's since been removed. Scott: I noticed you chose to start the series on Sunday with the case of Floyd Brown. Can you share that story? Mandy: Absolutely. Floyd Brown is a mentally retarded man who lived in Wadesboro. He's now 46, and he has the mental capabilities of a 7 year-old child. His IQ's in the low 50s. And back in 1993 there was a woman by the name of Catherine Lynch who was beaten to death in her home in Wadesboro, which is Anson County. And detectives, namely Special Agent Mark Isely, with the SBI honed in on Floyd and emerged from a four-hour interview with an elaborate, six-page concession, which doctors who have treated Floyd over the years said is absolute bogus, that he was incapable of giving such a concession. But Floyd went on to spend the next 14 years in Dorothea Dix Hospital Mental Hospital in Raleigh, and it's where they send people if they don't have the mental capability to proceed to trial, so he was stuck until a judge in Durham County freed him in 2007 after his lawyers argued he was being unjustly held. Scott: Was Mr. Isely's investigation into this case ever looked at by SBI superiors? Mandy: Only last year, when they were threatened with a lawsuit. In fact, there is a lawsuit now and only then did they commission a review of the case. Now, they haven't turned any of that over to us. They say that it's pending litigation, and they won't share any of those results. Scott: In Sunday's story the article that you wrote basically calls what the SBI is doing cheating, is that accurate? Mandy: Yeah, it is accurate. . . Those are strong words, and believe you me we tried to talk ourselves out of it. But at the end of the day when we stacked up all the evidence we had, that's what it pointed to.