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TVA must clean up coal plants, pay N.C. $11 million

The state has settled a 5-year-old lawsuit with the Tennessee Valley Authority over emissions from its coal-fired plants.

The deal was part of a larger settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over TVA violations of the clean air act at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The settlement requires the TVA to invest an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion on new and upgraded pollution controls. It must reduce emissions by retiring at least 18 of its 59 coal units and installing and continuously operating emission-control equipment on almost all of the remaining units.

TVA also agreed to invest $350 million on clean energy projects to reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health. North Carolina will receive $11.2 million as part of the clean energy investment.

The four plants closest to North Carolina will be among the first to be controlled or shut down, Attorney General Roy Cooper's office announced today.

"North Carolina businesses will benefit with lower health care costs and more tourism dollars, and all of us benefit from better health,” Cooper said in a statement. “This agreement means our air will be more clear and our waters more clean. The settlement is a remarkable accomplishment and we are pleased that everyone involved could resolve it this way.”

Cooper, on behalf of North Carolina, had filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the TVA in 2006, claiming that the utility’s coal-fired plants sent polluted air into North Carolina. 

SBI Lab Passes DNA Audits

Attorney General Roy Cooper released two independent audits Tuesday showing that the DNA unit of the SBI crime lab is meeting national standards.

Cooper called for the two audits of the DNA section after an independent audit showed that the SBI crime lab had withheld the results of blood tests in 227 cases from the 1980s through 2003. (Chris Swecker, who headed the independent audit, told The N&O Tuesday that two more cases were removed from his audit, bringing the number from 229 to 227.)

The October audit, conducted by members of the Kentucky State Police Forensics Lab, found two problems. The lab hadn't set expiration dates for some chemicals that lacked a manufacturer's expiration date, which is important because bad reagents can ruin a test.

The lab did not require the review of all standards and controls to see if expected results were obtained. The auditors found that the crime lab addressed both problems.

The October audit also found many test results were were "overblown" - off  the scale. But the lab seldom re-ran the tests as rules required. The audit also found that analysts were overusing the word "artifact" when the use did not fit the definition. An artifact is a false indication of a DNA sequence, perhaps caused by a contaminant or a problem  in the dye.  Theses findings were overruled by Audit Review Panel of the National DNA Index System.

In a press release, Cooper, SBI Director Greg McLeod and acting Crime Lab Director Joe John expressed satisfaction with the results.

"We welcome scrutiny as we work to make sure that the lab meets the highest and best standards," McLeod said.

Deaver Defends Self: He Did Nothing Wrong

Former SBI agent Duane Deaver has been at the heart of the many of the problems at the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation: the exoneration of Greg Taylor, an innocent man who spent 17 years behind bars; an independent audit that found 229 cases where blood test results were withheld or misstated; the bloodstain pattern analysis group that was shut down by Attorney General Roy Cooper for unscientific work.

Deaver, who was fired and faces contempt of court charges for his conduct in the Taylor case,  has not spoken with reporters over the past year, until recently. Deaver spoke with WRAL's Cullen Browder in a segment broadcast Monday evening. 

Deaver said he's a scientist who's done nothing wrong, but has become a scapegoat for problems at the SBI that he did not create. Deaver said the SBI has treated him unfairly and he vowed to get his job back. He said the whole experience has been very hurtful.

"I'm telling you I didn't do anything wrong, and yet, my career is over."

Does he think Greg Taylor is innocent?
"That's not my job. I'd hate to think that anyone would be put in prison who is innocent and that I would be part of that."

His report in the case said there were chemical indications of blood on Taylor's car. The report did not mention that subsequent, confirmatory tests for blood were negative. Deaver defended that report as scientifically accurate.

"Never would was it considered on my part that we were withholding anything.
That's not the way we did business or wanted to do business."

And he said he didn't think his work led to Taylor's conviction.

"I think it's mistaken. I think it's mistaken to think that my report was the reason he was convicted."

That's not the opinion of Taylor, who blames Deaver's report for his conviction.
WRAL said it would publish the entire interview later this week. We're curious to see if Deaver was asked about his bloodstain pattern analysis work, particularly in the Kirk Turner case. Or the George Goode case, where a federal judge scolded him for  giving false and misleading testimony.

Deaver's lawyer, Phillip Isley, said Deaver would not be giving any more interviews.

Lab Directors Complain, Vaguely


Leaders of ASCLD, the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, have not been the biggest fans of The News & Observer's reporting on problems at the State Bureau of Investigation.  In addition to finding problems at the SBI, we've also reported on the failure of the accrediting agency ASCLD-LAB to catch  the problems in the SBI crime lab and the ASCLD-LAB's cozy relationships with ASCLD (a trade association), a lobbying group, and a for-profit consulting firm.

ASCLD leaders have repeatedly accused The N&O of errors and inaccuracies, but have yet to cite a single example. We've repeatedly asked them to point us to errors so we can assess the information and, if necessary, run corrections. It is News & Observer policy to correct all errors. Here's three examples of  complaints not backed by evidence.

CALIFORNIAN CRIES FOUL: In October, ASCLD president-elect Jill Spriggs, the director of California's state crime lab, gave a presentation to the N.C. General Assembly. A San Francisco newspaper later reported how Spriggs's remarks drew criticism from a defenses lawyer and a former lab analyst for the Los Angeles police.

Spriggs said The N&O misquoted her.

"I can tell you a lot of the things that were reported by the News & Observer in North Carolina were taken out of context," she told  The SF Weekly. "A lot of what they reported is wrong."

Spriggs, who has twice declined interviews with The News & Observer, has not pointed out what we got wrong.

As for misquote? Here's the quote in question, which you can compare to audio of her presentation, attached below.

"That is an accurate statement," Spriggs said. "A lot of times you got no results. It didn't mean it wasn't blood; it meant you didn't have enough sample, or maybe the sample was old. ...What else is red-brown that will give you a positive presumptive test for blood? There's nothing that I know."

CNN: The cable network recently aired "Rogue Justice", an hour-long documentary on problems at the SBI,  largely based on our work  Greg Matheson, president of ASCLD, sent out the following email to all ASCLD members: (our emphasis added)
"On this Sunday night, January 30, 2011, CNN will be airing "CNN Presents: Rogue Justice: CNN's Drew Griffin investigates the North Carolina state justice system where key blood test results have been withheld from trial."  The show is airing at 8:00 PM EST and 5:00 PM PST.
Since late summer of 2010, there has been significant media interest about issues surrounding the activities of the North Carolina (NC) State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), including its forensic science laboratory.  A local NC newspaper has run a series of articles alleging significant malfeasance on the part of SBI in general and the laboratory in particular.
Your association, ASCLD, has been actively involved by providing testimony before the North Carolina Legislative Committee.  We felt it was important for ASCLD to provide insight and guidance into many issues which we feel have been either inaccurately reported or misunderstood by the media and the NC committee.  Our involvement is strictly focused on educating all involved parties on the scientific basis of specific tests, the conclusions which could be reached and reported, and evaluating the historical work of a laboratory in the context of practices at the time the work was performed."
Matheson was kind enough to provide a copy of his email. We asked for details on what exactly has been inaccurately reported. He replied on Feb. 1 that he would have to compile a list, which we have yet to receive.
ASCLD-LAB: Ralph Keaton, the director of ASCLD-LAB, has complained several times to N&O reporters about errors in our reporting. Each time we've asked him to give us specifics, so we can publish corrections if necessary. Each time he has refused. But he did give us a wonderful quote from former newspaper reporter Mark Twain: "If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed." "
"That's an accurate statement."
"It doesn't mean it wasn't blood."

NC food banks get $741,220 in grant funding

Seven food banks in North Carolina will receive a total of $741,220 that was granted to the state as part of a settlement with major vitamin manufacturers in 2009. In an announcement today, Attorney General Roy Cooper said that the funds will be distributed as follows:

*Second Harvest Food bank of North West North Carolina (Winston-Salem) $158,188
*Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina (Charlotte) $173,143
*Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeast NC (Fayetteville) $73,912
*Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC (Raleigh) $168,523
*Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (Raleigh) $45,774
*MANNA Food Bank (Asheville) $72,061
*Food Bank of Albermarle (Elizabeth City) $49,619

CNN repeats itself

If you missed CNN's one-hour documentary on the SBI, "Rogue Justice," you have a second chance this weekend. CNN will rebroadcast "CNN Presents" on Saturday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. EST.

The show focuses on two stories familiar to News & Observer readers: Greg Taylor, who spent 17 years in prison before he was exonerated, and Floyd Brown, who spent 14 years locked up at Dorothea Dix before a judge ordered him freed.

Check it out and let us know what you think.

CNN To Air Documentary on the SBI

The problems at the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation will get a nationwide audience this weekend.

CNN will air "Rogue Justice" this Sunday, January 30, at 8 p.m. The show will focus on  Greg Taylor and  Floyd Brown, stories familiar to North Carolinians but little known outside the state.  It will repeat at 11 p.m.

CNN learned of the cases from reading The News & Observer's four-part series, "Agents' Secrets", which revealed how  agents bullied the vulnerable and some lab analysts pushed past the bounds of accepted science to deliver results that bolstered prosecutors' cases.

CNN  said  that Attorney General Roy Cooper did not agree to an interview with CNN despite repeated requests.

This is how CNN describes the documentary:

"Greg Taylor spent 17 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.  Floyd Brown, also innocent, was forcibly detained in a mental institution for 14 years.  The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) was at the center of both cases....In Taylor’s case, the jury took just hours to sentence him to life, but the SBI had withheld evidence from the jury.  In Brown’s case, an SBI agent claimed that he had written down verbatim a six-page confession that Brown had given him describing the murder in intricate detail.  But Brown has the I.Q. of a seven-year-old and is incapable of even spelling his own name.  Though there was no physical evidence linking Brown to the crime, the alleged confession resulted in his confinement to a mental institution."

Telemarketer banned from doing business in NC

A telemarketer that used illegal telemarketing calls to trick seniors and other car owners into buying car warranties has been banned from doing business in this state.

Attorney General Roy Cooper won a judgement in Superior Court against Automotive Protection of New Jersey and its manager, Christopher Doyle.

The ruling was the result of a suit Cooper filed against the company in February of 2009.

The company and Doyle were ordered to pay $4.5 million in penalties, which will go to North Carolina Public Schools.

That's a Wrap, Baby

Duane Deaver, the poster boy for problems at the State Bureau of Investigation, was fired Friday. One reason cited for his firing were four words uttered in the Kirk Turner case, which you can find here. While the SBI didn't approve of Deaver exclaiming "That's a wrap baby!" on video, the termination letter contained  no criticism of the underlying work in the case.  Here's a video dissecting the work of Deaver and agent Gerald Thomas in the Turner case.

According to Deaver's lawyers, the SBI did not cite the substance of Deaver's work as grounds for termination.

The termination letter pointed to Deaver's testimony in the Greg Taylor case: he faces contempt of court charges for his conflicting statements to the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission. The letter does not cite Deaver's report in the Taylor case, which failed to mention confirmatory tests for blood whose results were favorable to Taylor. You can find video on this case here, and stories on the contempt of court charges here and here.

The third ground for termination: Deaver apparently reviewed a case file for a colleague while on investigative leave, when he was prohibited from working. According to Deaver's lawyers, "There is an arguable violation of an obscure SBI policy."


The Wolf Memo

Last week we wrote about how the SBI's policy and practice of reporting blood tests in the 1990s differed from the policy and practices of other states and the FBI.  The story relied on a June memo from Michael Wolf, one of two former assistant directors of the FBI who audited the FBI's serology section. The Wolf memo can be found below for your reading pleasure.

Wolf memo.pdf
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