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State Bureau of Investigation crime lab's crimes

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They stole fax machines, printers, anything that wasn't nailed down.

These weren't the criminals, but the people who were supposed to be managing them. "Lost" is the official term used to describe what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars of office equipment owned by the state's probation and parole department. The same people also "lost" track of 14,000 offenders who were supposed to be complying with the terms of their probation and parole. That wasn't always their fault, as their superiors often neglected to grace them with job training of any kind.

A 2000 investigation by the Raleigh News & Observer and outside agencies found that officers across the system were fabricating case file entries, failing to request the arrest of defendants who committed serious crimes and doing nothing when violent offenders missed appointments.

People died, in some cases violently, at the hands of criminals whose repeated crimes while on probation or parole should have landed them in prison, had anyone been paying attention. A 2004 News & Observer investigation found the problems continued. But victims continued to be brutalized, raped and murdered unnecessarily, including Eve Carson, the beloved student body president of UNC-Chapel Hill.

In 2008, a national study found that 80 percent of cases in the state's parole and probation system were being mishandled. Robert Guy, who managed the system, admitted to the N&O that he often received reports about the mishandling of the most violent probationers and parolees in the system, but filed them away and ignored them. He was pushed out, but he was later given the state's highest honor by outgoing Gov. Mike Easley, (who oversaw the last eight years of Guy's blood-soaked term of employment). Guy now heads a company that sells probation management services — I kid you not — to the state's probation system.

Now we learn, thanks to yet another N&O investigative series, that the people at the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab make up stuff, too. Like DNA reports. Like blood spatter and crime scene data. They "lose" things as well, like inconvenient evidence of defendants' innocence. In court, they lie. In more than one case, analysts fixed evidence to fit a case or testified against defendants on the witness stand without bothering to test the evidence.

The problems were the work of a few bad apples who should have been sent to prison years ago for the fraud they were openly accused of in court. Instead, these individuals were promoted and helped to train many of the lab's other investigators in what turns out to have been voodoo science. Some of their methods were so bad, the paper reported, that they met no recognizable national standard.

Tales of the incompetence and fraudulent behavior at the lab were repeatedly reported to the office of Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has run the SBI since 2001, the N&O reported. Like Easley, he did little until recently, when coverage of screw-ups in the cases of innocent people who served long sentences began to hit the media.

When 580 North Carolinians are murdered by parolees and probationers who are supposed to be under state management, politicians can ignore the situation as long as they don't mind an occasional investigative series. That's because crime victims don't generally have lawyers to advocate for them. The incarcerated do.

The convictions of thousands of offenders touched by the state crime lab's DNA and blood spatter analysis are now in question. (The city of Charlotte has its own independent crime lab, the only other lab in the state.)

It's entirely possible that genuinely guilty individuals could be freed from prison because the state's testimony is in doubt. An untold number of people incarcerated in our prisons could actually be innocent.

The state's district attorneys are so sorely underfunded by state government that it's questionable whether they'll be able to retry, much less sift through, so many cases. It's a disaster of indescribable proportions.

The state's present Democratic leadership, which seems to spend more time under investigation, indictment or incarceration by the justice system than it does actually managing it, can clearly no longer be trusted to run it — or anything else for that matter.

I just wonder how long it will take the state's voters to figure that out.

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