Cheating Is F'd Up - Part Two
Written by Brandi Abbott
After a quick update of what happened last week, Jess tells us that Gerald Thomas met with Duane Deaver, Chief Deputy Jerry Hartman, a lawyer from the DA’s office, and the DA’s investigator to try and find evidence proving that he killed Jennifer on purpose instead of in self defense. Deaver and Assistant District Attorney Brown hadn’t actually seen Kirk’s bloody T-shirt yet; just photos. They quickly noticed a pointed tip in one of the bloodstains. Priya and Jess show Keith a picture of the shirt (which you can also see on the Facebook page @Effed Up) and he says it looks more like someone placed the knife on the shirt instead of wiping it. This stain led to a theory that Kirk killed Jennifer with the knife and then staged the scene by stabbing himself in the leg with the spear – twice. Because of this conversation, Thomas no longer believed it was the stain of a bloody handprint.
Keith wonders why you would stab yourself somewhere that could be potentially fatal – this question leads to the information that the spear went all the way through Kirk’s leg and Keith, who’d previously thought as the DA did, changes his opinion about suspecting that Kirk had staged everything.
Thomas now believed the stain was actually a knife being wiped across the shirt - even though his initial report said it was a hand.
In April of 2009, prosecutors supplied the defense with some discovery including Thomas’ updated interpretation of the blood evidence that Kirk killed Jennifer and wiped his knife on his T-shirt. The defense attorneys, Joe Cheshire and Brad Bannon, hired their own forensic experts, Stuart James and Marilyn Miller. Kirk being a rich white guy, had the money to hire forensic specialists. Both of these experts thought the SBI Crime Lab was wrong and the bloodstain was a mirror stain, which basically is created when an item is folded together, transferring blood from portion of the item to a fresh, unmarred spot. Stuart was hired to do the analysis and Marilyn was hired to do the reconstruction, but because Marilyn also had experience with bloodstain analysis, she helped Stuart out. They determined that the stain was created by the fabric folding when the EMT’s were cutting off his shirt. The EMTs were focused on saving his life and just cut all his clothes off and tossed them to the side. The experts’ opinion was forwarded to the prosecutors, and Gerald Thomas claimed the ADA asked for additional testing to disprove that the bloodstain was a mirror image.
A month later he sent an email to a colleague saying he would conduct tests to “shore up” his conclusions, and he and Deaver got a replica knife and T-shirt to try to recreate the stain. The local paper reported that there was a video of Thomas wearing a clean shirt, dipping the knife in blood only getting blood on the edges and carefully wiping the blood on his shirt in an attempt to duplicate the stain. They performed this test twice on camera with Deaver’s director-like commentary audible at the end of the tape. Deaver went so far as to conclude the tests by saying “that’s a wrap, baby.”
Along with the fact that the knife’s blade would be covered in blood, not just the edges, Thomas and Deaver using brand new T-shirts instead of an older worn T-shirt like Kirk was wearing means that the fabric would have responded differently. Nevertheless, the tests were performed and they solidified Thomas’ new conclusion: The bloodstain was made from a pointed object being wiped on the shirt.
In May of 2009, Thomas and Hartman from the sheriff’s office had a phone conversation, which Thomas included in his notes – as was protocol. He wrote down that Hartman told him that he was present when the EMTS cut off Kirk’s shirt, that the bloodstain was already on the shirt, and that he laid it flat to dry so the stain wouldn’t be impacted by any handling of it.
In July of 2009, Brad Bannon, the defense attorney, called Thomas into his office because he wanted copies of all of his files. Although SBI analysts are discouraged from speaking to the defense, Brad had gotten permission from the DA’s office. Thomas gave him a copy of his complete file and Brad went through everything. While going through the file, something grabbed his attention. The copy of the initial report from September 2007 in the file was different from the copy he already had. He noted that the copy he had, had the numbers 24, 25, and 26 in the corner of the page - which appeared to represent page numbers. The second copy he had just been given had the same title but he noticed the page numbers where different, they were 1441, 1442, and 1443. At first glance it seemed to be the same report, but upon closer examination, one line where Thomas states his opinion about the shirt had changed. The first report had referred to the bloodstain being consistent with a bloody hand being wiped on the shirt and the new report referred to it being consistent with a pointed object. It seemed that Thomas had changed the report, but left the same date on it and didn’t follow the SBI Crime Lab standards of creating a separate report for an amendment. If Brad hadn’t asked for the file, the defense never would have known about the change in the report before the trial. Not only that, but, while looking through the file, Brad also found the notes from Thomas’ phone call with Hartman and he thought something was off with that as well and he decided to ask Thomas about it at trial.
Marilyn Miller, the forensic expert, had examined Kirk’s jeans. There was a bloodstain inside the pocket where he kept his knife. She determined it was a transfer stain from where he reached into his pocket to get his knife and that it was his own blood; which supported that he had been stabbed before pulling out his knife.
Thomas took the stand next and Brad brought up the phone conversation between him and Hartman where Hartman had said that he had been there when EMTs cut off Kirk’s shirt, that he had been the one to lay the shirt out, and that he had seen a pointed stain on it at that time. Thomas confirmed that that conversation had occurred and that was definitely what Hartman said. When Brad questioned Hartman about the same thing, Hartman said he didn’t say any of that. He said what he told Thomas was that he was not there when the EMTs cut the clothes off of Kirk, that when he did arrive, the clothing was crumpled so he laid the shirt out flat to dry. Thomas claimed that this was just a misunderstanding. Brad then dug into Thomas about his file. He wanted to know how defense attorneys would be able to understand whether or not Thomas was reinvestigating which Thomas tried to evade. Brad then asked if he talked about experiments that were being set up to prove theories and Thomas said yes. Brad then asked if it was important to record those theories and Thomas said “I have them in my head, I know what theory I’m trying to prove…”
Later on in the questioning, Brad asked if he could produce any notes or anything that reflect what was said during the meeting with the ADA and Deaver and everyone in January of 2009. Thomas said he didn’t take notes, he had the pictures, and he initialed the photos so everyone would know that he took them and where they were from. Brad then showed him the pictures – they had no initials. Brad showed Thomas an envelope and asked if it was an envelope Thomas used to hold a swab of blood and Thomas said it was. Brad asked how the envelope described the swab and Thomas said “blood sample from cardboard boxes” to which Brad asked if he was aware that there was more than one cardboard box taken in for evidence. Thomas said he was aware and Brad pointed out that looking at the envelope, he would have no idea which box it came from. Brad then questioned Thomas about the change in his report and how nothing on it indicated it was changed. Thomas inexplicably told Brad that he’d amended the report. Which was apparent.
The good news is that on August 21st, 2009, the jury deliberated for 6 hours and Kirk Thomas was found not guilty for reason of self-defense. Marilyn’s testimony about Kirk’s pocket ended up being the key evidence as juries actually do love an expert witness when they’re actually an expert and know what they’re talking about. Speaking of… when Marilyn Miller and Stuart James went into the sheriff’s office, not a single piece of that pocket had been cut out and tested and it was never mentioned in the SBI Crime Lab’s notes because no one had even bothered to test it.
So, that’s great! But – hold up. Who’s Gerald Thomas and how did we get here?!
Gerald Thomas was born in 1971 in North Carolina and graduated from Greensboro College in 2002 with a degree in art, history, and political science. In 2008, he got a Masters in Arts and Sociology. From 1992-1999 he worked at the Liberty Police Department. From 1995-1999, he was a detective with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, and from 1999-2003, he was the assistant police chief and police chief at the Liberty Police Department. Basically he spent 11 years in law enforcement and his only science background was attending a training course in basic bloodstain pattern analysis taught by Duane Deaver, Jennifer Elwell and others before joining the SBI. In 2007, he took a similar course at a local community college and in 2009 took an online graduate course from the University of Florida.
It turns out that all agents who want to work in bloodstain pattern analysis have to attend a minimum of three crime scenes and have them reviewed by other analysts. Deaver did almost all of Thomas’ mentoring and report reviews, and after Thomas had recorded ten crime scenes, Deaver released Thomas to work crime scenes on his own. Inexplicably, according to Thomas, in the Turner case he didn’t know his report change counted as a new opinion and should have been added in a new report - which gives off the faint odor of bullshit.
As of August of 2008, he completed the NC blood training program which is not a certificate program, but on his CV as of 2010, he listed it under his certifications – he lied on his resume. Priya, Keith and Jess discuss the idea of lying on one’s resume – not a SUPER nefarious practice. However, we’re talking about a person who is literally dealing with life and death situations. In addition to that, his CV also had a few references of cases he had provided testimony on which included the Turner case which had made him kind of a laughing stock in the forensic science community, and another case where he sat on the stand long enough to say his name and what he did before the judge dismissed him after finding out what Thomas’ testimony was going to be.
In 2010 during the audit of the lab, the training Deaver did was one of the top concerns but there were many more. Marilyn Miller told the News & Observer that many forensic scientists outside of North Carolina had been concerned about Deaver and his protegé for a while but felt powerless to do anything. She said that he taught people his shoddy practices, which would cause them to teach the same and it would just be a cycle. This proves true when we find out that Thomas also taught courses in bloodstain analysis and even became an evaluator for training. Jess said that while they agree with Marilyn that it’s frightening to think of Deaver’s reach, it goes beyond the training to common sense and character. Even if we gave Thomas the benefit of the doubt that some things were human error like labeling the envelope, it doesn’t change the fact that he lied about the conversation with Hartman, lied on his resume about being certified, and edited a report without giving any indication he had done so which is against North Carolina law. There’s even a statute about that very thing!
Jess says what if it wasn’t a rich white guy who could afford great lawyers and outside expert witnesses and no one had ever tested the pocket or questioned Thomas about his call with Hartman. She thinks they would be in prison for murder. Priya says that looking at Thomas’ past career, it shows an obvious pattern of him climbing the ladder and that since prosecutors give reviews and rate analysts, which can lead to promotion, it makes sense that he changed the report to match what they saw.
Priya says Thomas has fascinated her since the beginning because she saw something saying he’d remained employed for the SBI, even after making all of those giant errors, the small errors and everything in between.
It turns out, he not only remained employed there, but was promoted in 2010 to Assistant Director of Field Services of the SBI. In December of 2016, a reporter wrote that he couldn’t find anything saying whether or not Thomas was still working for the SBI and Priya ran into the same problem but she would Google occasionally. BUT… In October of 2018, she Googled and found that he was promoted to Deputy Director of the SBI. The entire SBI.
Though there was an investigation of the SBI lab’s training and internal practices, the results of the investigation were not made public and any necessary changes to it were not made public. At this point the lack of transparency is expected, but still disappointing.
On August 18th of 2010, the two former FBI agents who performed a five-month audit of the SBI Crime lab released their results. Out of over 15,000 cases that they examined, they found that the SBI Crime Lab withheld, misreported, or distorted evidence in more than 230 cases. F’d Up will be going into those cases and more next week.