Rudolph defense says "numerous deficiencies" in ATF crime labs
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Internal audits of crime laboratories run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reveal "numerous deficiencies" that could help discredit evidence allegedly linking Eric Rudolph to a deadly abortion clinic blast, his lawyers said in documents made public Thursday.
A check of the Rockville, Md., lab in December 2000 found problems including inadequate training, unlocked doors, evidence left on counter tops, inadequate policies on calibrating testing machines and cramped examination rooms, according to the defense.
In the agency's Atlanta lab, the defense said maintenance logs showed numerous problems with testing equipment, some of which may not have been working properly around the time the office was examining evidence from the 1998 Alabama bombing.
While the defense documents didn't provide details on work done in the bombing case by individual AFT crime labs, Rudolph's lawyers claimed the audits indicate mistakes could have been made during the analysis of evidence from the clinic blast.
Neither prosecutors nor the ATF had any immediate comment on the defense allegations, but a former prosecutor who was involved in the case said he never heard of any concerns about the agency's labs.
"I don't think there's a problem with it, and I think that will come out at trial," said Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney.
Rudolph is set for trial this spring in the clinic bombing, which killed an off-duty police officer and critically injured a nurse. He also is accused in the deadly blast at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and a series of bombings in Atlanta in 1997.
Rudolph, who pleaded not guilty, could be sentenced to death if convicted. He was captured in May 2003 in North Carolina after more than five years as a fugitive.
The defense said the government has turned over six audits from three ATF labs documenting problems in the years after the clinic bombing investigation.
"These reports identify numerous deficiencies that will be significant to the defense effort at trial to impeach the reliability of the ATF laboratory work in this case," said a defense filing.
But prosecutors haven't turned over all reports from the period closer to the blast, Rudolph's lawyers said. In a lengthy request, they asked for an order to make the government release additional reports on the labs.
Prosecutors filed no immediate response to the defense motion, but they have defended the work of government experts in the past.
The ATF's public affairs office declined immediate comment on the lab audits, which examined facilities in Washington besides Maryland and Atlanta.
ATF experts analyzed evidence including items taken from Rudolph's North Carolina trailer, where agents say they found a towel, cushion and other things contaminated with explosives. An ATF examiner also matched Rudolph's handwriting to words written on documents including Rudolph's Bible, which prosecutors say had the words "Bombs" written in a margin.
The ATF labs are accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board, but the defense said the offices can fail inspections in many areas without losing the seal of approval.
The defense's questions resemble doubts raised in the 1990s about work performed by the FBI's crime lab, which is separate from the ATF labs.
An inspector general's review in 1997 concluded that scientists in the explosive units of the FBI lab used questionable scientific practices and gave inaccurate testimony. Those findings led to an overhaul of the facility.
Jones said the FBI's problems likely helped improve other government labs because "everybody was on notice for potential problems and especially sensitive to those kinds of things."
Posted by Editor at February 3, 2005 04:09 PM