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Permanent director named for State Crime Lab

Release date: 10/7/2011

Judge John gets unanimous approval from panel of experts

Raleigh: Joseph R. John, Sr. has been appointed as the permanent director of the State Crime Lab, Attorney General Roy Cooper and SBI Director Greg McLeod announced today.
“Judge John is a skillful leader who is guiding the crime lab toward the highest standards,” Cooper said. “I expect him to continue to make sure that the lab uses the latest science to pinpoint criminals and eliminate potential suspects.”
“The State Crime Lab provides invaluable service to help solve crimes and keep our state safe,” McLeod said. “Judge John has proven to be a strong lab director who works well with all members of the criminal justice community.”
John, a former appellate and trial court judge with 25 years experience on the bench, was appointed by Cooper as acting director of the lab last October. As acting director, he has supervised day-to-day lab operations, headed a legal review, and made significant improvements to ensure confidence in the lab’s work, including pursuing stringent new international standards. 
After an extensive national search, an advisory committee of defense attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement, a scientist and judicial officials unanimously recommended that Judge John get the lab director job permanently.
“Since Judge John accepted the interim directorship of the North Carolina State Crime Lab, he has unsurprisingly conducted himself with honor, transparency, and dedication.  He has worked hard to lift the morale of the Crime Lab and bring it back to its mission of unbiased, transparent, and competent science.  While there is never a person for any job who will receive unanimous approval of every stakeholder, I enthusiastically join with the rest of the very diverse advisory search committee that unanimously recommended to the Attorney General that Judge John be allowed to become the permanent director of the North Carolina State Crime Lab.  I hope all the stakeholders in the criminal justice system will rally around his continued efforts to make North Carolina’s Crime Lab one that is not only open and unbiased, but one that can be a model for others to follow,” said Joe Cheshire, a defense attorney who served on the committee.
Other members of the committee are: Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Quentin Summer; Cary Police Chief Pat Bazemore; Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby; Cabarrus County Sheriff Brad Riley; Moore County District Attorney Maureen Kreuger; Attorney Phil Baddour; President of Advocates for Justice; District Attorney Seth Edwards, District 2, President of the NC Conference of District Attorneys; and Dr. Terri Lomax, Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation at NC State University.
The State Crime Lab analyzes crime scene evidence including digital evidence, drugs, DNA, firearms, fingerprints, hair and fibers. Analysis by forensic scientists working for the lab can identify suspects and help clear the innocent.
“The scientists working in the State Lab today are talented, highly trained individuals who are committed to finding the truth, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to serve the citizens of our state and the criminal justice system,” said Judge John.
As lab director, Judge John will be assisted by two deputy assistant directors with science backgrounds. He will also work closely with the Forensic Science Advisory Board, a group of scientists and forensic experts who will meet quarterly to review the lab’s methods and make recommendations. Members of the board are expected to be named soon.
Judge John served on the NC Court of Appeals from 1992-2000, as Resident Superior Court Judge in Greensboro from 1984-1992, and as a District Court Judge from 1980-1984. He has worked in private practice, as a prosecutor, as a criminal defense attorney, and as a Legal Aid attorney. He is a graduate of the UNC School of Law and attended Belmont Abbey College, and holds bachelors and masters degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Cooper initiated a series of changes at the State Crime Lab last year, including the appointment of McLeod and Judge John, following the results of an independent review he commissioned to look at past serology cases and lab practices dating from the late 1980’s. 
As acting lab director, Judge John has supervised a number of changes that are strengthening the lab’s work:
  • Working toward accreditation under the stringent ISO17025 standards. Already the drug chemistry section is operating under ISO sampling standards, and other sections will be phased in with eventual full operation expected later this year. That will allow the lab to be accredited by two outside organizations, making it one of the first in the U.S. to have dual ISO accreditation.

  • Additional external certification for all SBI forensic scientists in their individual disciplines, including external peer review. All computer forensic scientists are certified, and approximately seventy lab scientists are preparing for certification examinations in other disciplines later this year. North Carolina’s lab is one of only a handful in the country with this independent certification requirement.

  • Initiated legal review of lab procedures in conjunction with full-time legal counsel to the lab.

  • Completed two independent audits of the lab’s DNA unit and the lab was found to meet the highest national standards set by the FBI.

  • Improvements to the Forensic Advantage system, which provides all lab reports and bench notes to prosecutors for sharing with defendants through the discovery process, are underway to make document retrieval easier.

  • Old cases undiscovered by the earlier independent review were voluntarily disclosed for review by district attorneys.  

  • Expanded process for soliciting feedback from courtroom personnel on forensic scientists’ court testimony.

  • Made all current lab policies, procedures, and accreditation information available to the public online.

  • Providing advanced courtroom testimony training for laboratory personnel as well as additional forensic science training for the criminal justice system, including training for prosecutors and defense attorneys. 

  • Formed a partnership with NC State University, Fayetteville State University and Wake County CCBI to establish a Center for Forensic Science Excellence here in North Carolina and are awaiting approval for federal funding from the National Institute of Justice.

Contact: Noelle Talley (919) 716-6413