Justice … and Justice Lost


Now Playing: Lucinda Williams’ version of the great Bob Dylan song Positively 4th Street: “You see me on the street, You always act surprised, You say, ‘How are you?’ ‘Good luck,’ But you don’t mean it.”

The papers today are full with the results of a review of the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab in North Carolina. The articles are distressing, backing up a recent series in the Raleigh News & Observer on the lab’s failings.

The review was conducted by two former FBI officials. It’s important to realize that these are not liberal, criminal-loving analysts. These are FBI agents. FBI.

They found 230 cases during 16 years in which the SBI lab either manipulated evidence to bolster prosecution cases or hid their findings so that the defense couldn’t benefit. This is an outrage.

Some of friends on Facebook have defended N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and lauded him for calling for the probe by the FBI agents.

Meh. To me, it seems like Cooper was “shocked, shocked to find gambling” at Rick’s. He’s been AG since 2000. He wants to be governor. He needs the support of the state’s sheriffs to make it. And sheriffs like to see the people they catch get convicted.

We all want to see real criminals convicted. But we should also want to see justice. And that can mean letting a few guilty people go so we don’t convict innocent ones. Like Greg Taylor, imprisoned for 17 years for a murder he didn’t commit. The SBI crime lab knew that a stain on his SUV wasn’t blood. Not the victim’s. Not anybody’s. But they never told. Jurors said the blood was the main reason they convicted Taylor.

He got Justice Delayed earlier this year when he was ordered freed by the state Supreme Court, then pardoned by Gov. Beverly Perdue.

My friends point out that Taylor’s case occurred while Mike Easley was AG. You remember Easley, who did parlay the job into the governorship and is now under investigation by a federal grand jury. I guess he hopes the SBI crime lab isn’t handling the evidence.

But the policies that tainted 230 cases remained in effect during at least portions of Cooper’s tenure. It’s hard to see him as anything but a recent convert to the cause of Justice. I’m not so willing to give him a pass (while acknowledging that he apparently gave the FBI guys complete access to the SBI lab records).

If there’s a real hero in this mess, it’s the lead investigator in the review, Chris Swecker. I’ve long been a fan, he’s a straight-talking former assistant FBI director who was pretty high profile in his time in Charlotte as special agent for North Carolina. He later took a job heading up corporate security at Bank of America before starting his own security company. He’s always been one to listen to when he talked. He recommends further review of the 230 tainted cases by the SBI and prosecutors.

No doubt defense attorneys will egg that recommendation on.

So there is hope for justice in the cases. And concern that some guilty people may be freed. That’s the price of true Justice.

But for some of the defendants, there won’t be justice.

Three have been executed, at least in part on cooked evidence.

I’m not a Pollyanna, I know there’s a pretty high chance that those folks were guilty.

But doesn’t it make you wonder. And cringe. That there’s a small chance that they weren’t guilty.

I’ve always opposed the death penalty. Now I oppose it even more.

“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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