RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina’s Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned a Durham judge’s decision to throw out the child murder charges facing a man who spent 12 years in prison because the judge ruled prosecutors and state crime lab investigators hid evidence.
A unanimous three-judge appeals court panel said it doesn’t see Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s reasoning for throwing out all charges against Derrick Allen and ruling it’s no longer possible for Allen to get a fair trial. The appeals court ordered new hearings in the case.
Hudson dismissed murder and assault charges against Allen in December 2010. He was serving a prison sentence for the 1998 death of his then-girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter.
Hudson ruled that Durham County prosecutors hid evidence and the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime laboratory intentionally omitted evidence about blood tests in Allen’s case.
Problems at the state crime lab became public after another man was declared innocent of murder after spending almost 17 years in prison. That case, involving the release of Greg Taylor, resulted in a review of the SBI crime lab by two former assistant directors with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Their report flagged Allen’s case as one of about 200 that the lab handled improperly.
“We share the trial court’s displeasure with the manner in which the blood testing results were disclosed to defendant and the manner in which aspects of the prosecution of this case have been handled,” Judge Sam Ervin IV wrote for the court panel. “Even so, given our inability to discern any legal basis for the sanction imposed in the trial court’s order, we are obligated to reverse it.”
Tuesday’s ruling means Allen again faces the charges, but his conviction was overturned earlier and he can remain free until the courts and prosecutors decide whether to pursue a new trial against him, said Daniel Shatz of the state appellate defender’s office, who represented Allen. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper declined to respond to whether Allen will remain free pending a new hearing, referring questions to local prosecutors.
Allen has maintained his innocence, but he entered an Alford plea in 1999 that allowed him to avoid the death penalty and left him facing a sentence of about 50 years in prison. Under an Alford plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict.