North Carolina SBI agent Duane Deaver, who testified on behalf of Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby and prosecutor Tom Ford against Gregory F. Taylor’s bid for freedom after 17 years of wrongful incarceration, was fired on January 7, 2011. Before the three judge panel of the Innocence Commission which heard the appeal, Deaver testified about the SBI lab and its long-standing policy of withholding and/or skewing data and lab results from a criminal investigation which might be beneficial to defendants. Such was the case in Gregory Taylor’s case, as Deaver stated the SBI lab, according to policy, allowed the jury hearing Taylor’s case to be misled into believing that blood was on the bumper of Taylor’s vehicle (which prosecutor Tom Ford maintained came from a murder victim Jacquetta Thomas). Fact was that although a presumptive test was positive a confirmatory test for human blood was not. Deaver’s testimony under questioning by defense attorney Mike Klinkosum exposed how the SBI lab purposely and systematically tilted the playing field against defendants in hundreds of cases. This revelation, in part, no doubt played a role in Greg Taylor’s subsequent exoneration.
Christine Mumma, executive director of the NC Center on Actual Innocence, who also represented Taylor, aptly referred to Deaver’s termination as the SBI’s “throwing the employee under the bus while those responsible for giving the employee direction and approving his work walk away unscathed.” Her assessment is right on the money. Deaver, the good soldier who was following orders to help prosecutors with their weak cases by providing hocus-pocus lab results and misleading testimony on the stand, was given the shaft by the very people who had earlier depended upon and lauded his devious work. His firing, however is cold comfort for the many innocents who have spent years wrongfully behind bars, dependent mainly on their Class and Color.
The fortuitous exposure and downward spiral of the reliability in the SBI’s past prejudicial lab work on criminal evidence was a self-inflicted wound. Hubris of Taylor’s original prosecutor Tom Ford enabled him and the Wake County district attorney to fight the overwhelming evidence which strongly supported Greg Taylor’s innocence. According to the January 11, 2011 article in The News & Observer, which per PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) Policy did not mention Tom Ford’s name, Deaver plans to appeal his firing. This is a good thing… not so much in that it could possibly lead to Deaver’s reinstatement, but rather for the light it will shed on the conduct, attitudes, and culture of prosecutors statewide.
As I have religiously maintained, the prosecutors (such as Tom Ford, Bill Wolfe, and others) are at the crux of the injustice that has been meted out by the North Carolina justice system. For the most part they are intelligent, diabolical, and cunning, and have no qualms about orchestrating lab techs and agents in order to obtain convictions in weak cases without credible evidence. To suggest that prosecutor Tom Ford was unaware of the underlying deceit in Deaver’s testimony in the case against Taylor is not credulous. Ford knew that the SBI lab’s statements about alleged blood on the bumper of Taylor’s SUV was as credible as the plea deals he brokered to acquire false testimony against Taylor in retaliation for Taylor’s refusal to implicate a black man, Johnny Beck, who he knew to be innocent of a murder.
The solution to North Carolina state’s woeful justice system is to institute a policy following the principle of “equal justice for all” and to abandon its current tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.” A tall order indeed. Prosecutors need to become something that few of them have ever been… Ministers of Justice. As was clearly evident in the Duke Lacrosse case, however, doing so can be hazardous to one’s professional and private lives. Former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was honorably executing his prosecutorial duties in that case and was exemplifying the very concept of “Minister of Justice.” As a result, he was disbarred, tossed in jail, deprived of professional immunity, denied representation before the State Bar, and crucified in the media – both locally and nationally.
Until the North Carolina State Bar unilaterally and unconditionally reinstate Mr. Nifong’s license to practice law in the state without restrictions, the state’s system of justice will never take a step on the road to recovery.