North Carolina Crime Lab Audit Too Late for Three Executed Inmates

After an audit of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) conducted by former FBI agents at the request of North Carolina’s attorney general, it was revealed that officials withheld blood evidence affecting 269 defendants. The report listed three death penalty cases that resulted in executions. Although each of the executed defendants confessed to the crimes, such confessions are sometimes suspect and evidence withheld by the state might have at least led to a lesser sentence. Desmond Carter, who was executed in 2002, was represented by attorneys who were inexperienced and unqualified to handle his capital case. The attorneys never evaluated and challenged the SBI evidence, only assuming the evidence was true. Another impacted case was that of John Hardy Rose, who confessed to killing his neighbor. Ken Rose, his attorney (no relation), said there was doubt as to whether his crime was premeditated or impulsive. Rose said he believes previously undisclosed negative results of a test for blood could have been used to secure a life sentence or a second-degree murder conviction for his client, who was executed in 2001. The final executed defendant was Joseph Timothy Keel. His lawyers are still exploring how the withheld evidence might have affected his case. Jay Ferguson, one of the lawyers, lamented, “[T]here are no do-overs with the death penalty. We can’t go back and fix these errors.”

Four other capital defendants whose cases were mentioned in the SBI report remain on North Carolina’s death row: Patricia Jennings, John Robert Elliott, Terry Lee Ball, and Chris Roseboro. Alan Gell was exonerated and freed from the state’s death row after an earlier investigation showed that crucial evidence had been withheld in his case. He received a substantial settlement from the government.

(J. Neff and M. Locke, “For executed men, audit’s too late,” News & Observer, August 19, 2010). See also Arbitrariness and Innocence.