An innocent man

by Brian Clarey


This week’s cover story, “Ed Taylor’s boy” (page 16), tells the story of Greg Taylor. Convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder, Taylor was ordered to serve a life sentence based largely on evidence provided by the State Bureau of Investigation’s serology lab which showed the blood of the deceased on the outside of Taylor’s truck.

But when the NC Innocence Commission reviewed the facts of his case, they discovered that no such result had been determined by the lab, that in fact SBI Agent Duane Deaver had run a test that showed there was no blood on Greg’s SUV. But prosecutors never got this information.

This revelation led to the discovery of a huge, decades-long saga of corruption in the SBI serology lab.

“They were deliberately falsifying information,” NC Rep. Pricey Harrison said. “It’s downright criminal and it’s shameful.”

NC Attorney General Roy Cooper, once he realized the magnitude of the fraud perpetrated by the state’s highest law enforcement agency, had the FBI audit the bureau, and found 230 cases tainted by withheld or fabricated evidence, three of which had already been irrevocably settled by executions in the state’s name.

NC Sen. Don Vaughan, who was Taylor’s lawyer at the time of his eventual release from Johnston County Correctional Facility, was similarly aghast at the situation.

“Here I am, a defense lawyer,” he said, “and the prosecution is in control of the lab that is testing the evidence? I know Attorney General Cooper has corrected this, but it does make you wonder how many cases are out there just like Greg’s, where there would be a reasonable doubt in the case had the SBI lab done their job. I expect to see years and years of litigation [as a result of this].”

Both Vaughan and Harrison say that they will fight to ensure the Innocence Commission keeps getting the funding it needs to keep seeking justice for those wrongly imprisoned. And Vaughan says the NC General Assembly’s first session in 2011 will address the issue of the SBI serology lab, seeking to make it independent from law enforcement.

“Phil Berger, the newly-elected majority leader, has a son who is DA in Rockingham County,” Vaughan said. “I know he has come out in favor of the independent crime lab.”

North Carolina is at the forefront of this innocence movement — whether because we are particularly enlightened or we have more damage to undo than other states is unclear.

It remains true that putting innocent people in jail is bad for business — most settlements reach into seven figures after even the threat of civil litigation. But it is also an unacceptable miscarriage of justice. The rectification of which should be a high priority.

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