Five cases under review

Published 12:36 am Saturday, August 28, 2010

AHOSKIE – District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell has launched an investigation of five local court cases in the wake of revelations that results of blood analysis performed at the North Carolina SBI Crime Lab in Raleigh may be inaccurate.

Asbell joins DA’s throughout the state to voice their concerns over, as she said, “Misstating the evidence in any case is unacceptable and victims and defendants have a right to expect accuracy and full transparency in the operations of the SBI lab.”

While Asbell said she had been closely following the stories written in statewide media outlets over the last few weeks, articles that alleged shoddy work by the SBI Lab in regards to blood serology tests, she is supporting a statement made by the leader of her state association.

Yesterday (Friday), Seth Edwards, President of the NC Conference of District Attorneys, announced that his organization is pushing for a full scale audit of the entire SBI crime lab in the wake of the recent independent review of the blood serology section of the lab. Edwards serves as the District Attorney for District 2, which includes Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties. “In essence, the District Attorneys are advocating for the law abiding citizens of North Carolina, and in particular, the victims of crime, for it will be this group that suffers mightily if the reputation of the SBI is not rehabilitated quickly,” Edwards said.

Although the recent independent report only addressed cases analyzed by one section of the SBI lab from 1987 to 2003, Edwards stated that he anticipates that every case involving the SBI will be scrutinized unless and until a full scale audit of the lab is performed. While this may not be needed from a practical standpoint due to other review methods already in place, it is crucial from a justice standpoint.

Edwards reiterated that his relationship with the SBI has been both positive and professional, citing top notch investigations by the many SBI agents in the field.

“Restoring the public’s confidence not only in the SBI lab, but our entire system of justice, is our paramount concern, and a full scale audit of the lab is a step in the right direction,” Edwards noted. “The District Attorneys across the state are urging the Attorney General to commission such an audit, and for the powers at be to appropriate sufficient funds for this purpose.”

“I agree and support the Conference’s position as to the full scale audit,” Asbell said. “As District Attorney for Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties, I took an oath to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina.  I also pledged to endeavor to have the criminal laws fairly and impartially administered to the best of my knowledge and ability.  Over the past weeks, we all have followed the news stories involving the SBI with great interest and concern.”

Recently, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper revealed the findings of an independent review of the SBI forensic lab, with a particular focus on blood serology.  According to the findings of the independent review, the reviewers analyzed over 15,000 lab files that were conducted between 1987 and 2003 (the blood tests in question were discontinued in 2003 in favor of more accurate testing such as DNA testing).  As a result of this review, 230 instances were identified in which the lab report did not accurately reflect all of the information in the analyst’s notes.  Forty of the 230 did not result in any charges; therefore, 190 cases are left where charges were actually filed.

Asbell said that out of the 190, five of those cases involve defendants charged in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties.

Included in those cases are two individuals that remain in prison – Eric Quinn Green of Northampton County who pled guilty to 2nd degree murder on July 2, 1997 and was sentenced to life behind bars and Phelicia Ann Charity of Hertford County who pled guilty to 2nd degree murder on Feb. 11, 1998 and was given a 20-year, 9-month sentence.

“As prosecutors we are called to ministers of justice and I do not condone any practice of misstating the evidence in any case, but it is important to note that in this independent review there was no evidence found that lab files were concealed or evidence deliberately suppressed,” Asbell said.

She continued, “As your District Attorney, I am in the process of reviewing the five cases that were identified in my district to address the procedural issues in question and whether these issues affect guilt of these defendants.  Although the majority of these cases were completed before I became District Attorney, I want to ensure that justice was done.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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