Innocence and Justice Clinic Director Mark Rabil calls for restoring fairness to SBI lab

A judge should not have to order a scientist to prepare an accurate report for use in a murder case. That should just come naturally to the scientist. Unfortunately, our North Carolina SBI crime lab does not believe in this basic principle. Our SBI lab believes that prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges should comb through volumes of policies and procedures in order to predict what an SBI lab analyst will say in court.

Tamera Bean is on trial in a murder case in Asheboro. She is claiming that she shot her boyfriend in self-defense. When the sheriff arrived, they found the boyfriend shot dead in the home, with a shotgun and several shotgun shells by his side. The state is claiming that Bean staged the scene to look like self-defense by placing the shotgun and shells beside the dead man. Naturally, the sheriff sent the gun and shells to the SBI crime laboratory for fingerprint and DNA analysis to determine whether Bean had touched the gun or shells. This was a good move. Unfortunately, the lab found no prints of value for comparison. They did find some “touch DNA” on one of the shell casings. This means they found skin cells left on one shell from when someone touched it. The good news for Bean was that her DNA was not on the shell, and the boyfriend’s DNA cannot be excluded as the source of skin cells on the shell.

The problem is that the SBI lab analyst wrote a report in 2009 that she could form no conclusion about the identity of anyone from the DNA testing. Now, in 2011, just three days before trial, she told the defense attorney, David Botchin, that she would go to court and testify that Bean was excluded as the source of the DNA on the shell and that the boyfriend could not be excluded. This supports Bean’s argument of self-defense and contradicts the state’s assertion that she staged the scene.

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