Prosecutors Can’t Advocate For Victims
The ongoing saga of Duane Deaver and the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab is a prime example of why criminal prosecutors and those whom they employ should never consider themselves advocates for crime victims.
Deaver is the former SBI crime lab technician whose work came under withering scrutiny when a Raleigh man, Greg Taylor, was exonerated of a murder after serving 17 years in prison. Deaver and the lab withheld evidence indicating that a stain in the man’s truck was not blood. Prosecutors and detectives, referring to a lab report, told jurors that the stain was blood.
A series that appeared in The News & Observer of Raleigh showed how bending the lab test results to prosecutors’ liking was not isolated to the Taylor case. A subsequent audit of the SBI’s blood analysis unit found 230 cases where evidence was withheld or testing botched.
That was last year.
Deaver’s penchant for pushing blood evidence toward results that favored prosecutors was back before the courts this past week as Durham novelist Michael Peterson, convicted in 2003 of murdering his wife, won a new trial.
That new trial was based on a judge’s ruling that Deaver committed perjury when testifying about blood evidence, misleading both the judge and jury.
Winning a new trial doesn’t mean that Peterson will win his freedom. There was other evidence, in a particular an autopsy report, indicating that Kathleen Peterson didn’t die by falling down a staircase, as suggested in her husband’s criminal defense.
But here is the question that Deaver, or any overzealous prosecutors who hide or slant evidence, should now ask themselves: What favor has the slanting of evidence in this case done for the family of Kathleen Peterson?
“She was murdered. Plain and simple, she was murdered,” Candace Zamperini, Kathleen Peterson’s sister, said following the ruling. “We’ll see him in the Court of Appeals.”
She and her family shouldn’t have to be seeing him anywhere.
The original case should have, and perhaps would have, stood on its own without slanted, unscientific conclusions about blood splatter in the Peterson home. It ought to be over.
Instead, Deaver’s testimony has begot more suffering for Kathleen Peterson’s family.
If his motive was to be an advocate for the victim, the result is the opposite. He’s brought harm the victim.
It never should have been his motive anyway.
Deaver and the prosecutors whom he served represent the government, and they wield the ultimate power exercised by the government — the power to take away someone’s freedom or even end that person’s life.
Holding that power, it’s the obligation of police, lab technicians and prosecutors to present the evidence, no matter where it leads.
If they can’t live with that obligation, understanding that their role is to serve justice and not be advocates for crime victims, they need to look for another line of work.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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