RALEIGH — A former director of North Carolina's top law enforcement agency testified Wednesday that she believes the reasons given for firing an agent linked to some of the most egregious violations uncovered in a review of the state crime lab aren't entirely valid.
Robin Pendergraft, former director of the State Bureau of Investigation, testified before the Office of Administrative Hearings about the dismissal of SBI agent Duane Deaver. Deaver, who was fired after Pendergraft had moved to another state position, is asking an administrative law judge to reinstate him.
Deaver's letter informing him of his termination in January 2011 listed three reasons for his firing, including a complaint from the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission that he perjured himself in a hearing that eventually led to a man's exoneration on murder charges.
A Superior Court judge dismissed that criminal contempt charge after Deaver acknowledged his testimony before the state innocence commission was confusing.
On cross-examination by prosecutors from the state Attorney General's Office, Pendergraft agreed the commission's charge put the SBI in disrepute, if true. When asked if the charge would haunt Deaver in future trials, she said yes. "A defense attorney could bring that up each and every time," she said. But then, "I would say everybody could make allegations of this sort and end people's careers," she said.
Deaver's attorneys questioned Pendergraft about an earlier internal investigation that concluded that a perjury charge was unsustainable. "I can't explain how you can find it's not sustained, there's insufficient facts, and fire someone," Pendergraft said.
The other reasons cited in Deaver's letter were that he violated policy while he was on leave and that he commented "that's a wrap, baby" at the end of a video recording of a bloodstain recreation. She said she had questions about the violating policy charge but that overall, the issue "doesn't say firing."
Deaver's comment in the video was inappropriate, she said. "I would prefer for agents to not make comments like this," she testified. " ... Whether or not it's a termination offense by itself, I would say no."
The perjury charge involved testimony before the innocence commission, which recommends whether a three-judge panel hears a case and determines innocence of someone already convicted. It was Deaver's testimony before that three-judge panel in February 2010 led to the audit of the SBI crime lab's reporting of blood test results.
Deaver testified that it was SBI policy to report that evidence showed a chemical indication for the presence of blood even when a follow-up test came back negative. The preliminary test results were contained in the agents' reports, while the results of confirmatory tests that were negative were kept in agents' less formal bench notes.
His testimony at the landmark hearing also led to the release of Greg Taylor, who had served 17 years in prison for the murder of a prostitute in Raleigh.
The audit found 34 cases where Deaver misreported test results, withheld results that could have helped the defendant or overstated the strength of the evidence to the benefit of prosecutors. In two of the cases, for example, Deaver's final blood analysis reports said his tests "revealed the presence of blood" when his notes indicated negative results from follow-up tests.