New report throws thousands of convictions into question

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(Photo: CPR News)
Photo: New report throws thousands of convictions into question

The report found serious problems with the testing of blood samples at the state health department’s toxicology lab.

This is a transcript of Eric’s story.

Reporter: The report is based on an investigation that the state health department launched on itself. It did so because in January a former state lab employee emailed the department alleging that a supervisor in the toxicology lab failed to properly train employees and secure blood samples for criminal trials.

The health department asked a neutral third party to do the investigation, the Mountain States Employers Council. It concluded that training was inadequate and that samples were left unlocked. It also says that the supervisor who prompted the employee complaint, quote “likely…made statements suggesting he [or] she is ‘biased’ against defendants in criminal trails.”

Defense Attorneys quickly jumped on the report, saying it ruins the credibility of the state toxicology lab.

McDermott: It means they’re not trustworthy, and that’s what’s most important.

Reporter: Sean McDermott, is board president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. At an outdoor press conference he said he expects “thousands” of people convicted on the basis of blood tests performed by the state lab to appeal the outcomes of their trails.

And he complained that the state health department has withheld the results of investigation from the public since March.

McDermott: During that period of time, hundreds of people have gone through our court system without any knowledge that there were these problems in the lab, and without knowing that the evidence in their case could be compromised and even potentially tampered with.

Reporter: Dr. Chris Urbina, head of the state health department, defends its actions. He says the results of the investigation were kept confidential on the advice of state Attorney General John Suthers, who agreed it was a personnel matter. The department released it Friday also on Suthers’ advice.

Urbina says people convicted on the strength of blood tests done at the state lab shouldn’t assume that testing wasn’t done right.

Urbina: I believe it’s accurate. Now, I’m not your defense attorney (laughs), you have to decide what you want to do.

Reporter: Urbina says the state health department validates the accuracy of its results and he’s confident all the results its sent to courts are rock solid.

Courts may or may not agree. The only reason the report about suspect practices at the lab is becoming public now is because Attorney General Suthers found that, quote, “it could be considered mitigating evidence in the prosecution of certain criminal cases in which the [state] lab was involved.”

The Attorney General did not respond to CPR’s request to comment for this story.