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Medford evidence mystery lingers

The Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina), Main Edition, NEWS; Pg. B1
BYLINE: JOHN BOYLE

Buncombe County, NC

Persistent, pesky readers are some of my favorites.

Sure, they sometimes drive me nuts, but they also keep me on my toes and make me follow up on stories that have slipped beneath the waves. One of those readers is Don Kirkpatrick, who has been after me for weeks now to find out what ever happened to all the missing money and guns, not to mention mishandled evidence, in former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford's evidence room.

The State Bureau of Investigation was brought in to, well, investigate. But we never heard anything more. Granted, we as a newspaper should've been more diligent in following up, but still...

"If an investigation is announced to the public, I believe the public deserves to be informed of the results of the investigation," Kirkpatrick said. "The guns were never accounted for, (and) if I remember correctly there were conflicting statements over their supposed destruction."

Drugs, guns, money...

It was a huge case. Back in mid-2007, Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore requested a state investigation into evidence handling under Medford. Crooked as a mountain road, Medford served as sheriff for 12 years but now resides in a federal penitentiary for his involvement in a video gambling case and a pay-to-play system he set up.

The Buncombe County finance office conducted an audit of the evidence room after current Sheriff Van Duncan defeated Medford in 2006, finding that processing and storage of property and evidence seized during Medford's 12-year tenure "were so faulty that convictions and future court cases could be compromised," according to our news story from then.

Back then, auditors found that more than 300 guns could not be located or proved to have been destroyed, $217,769 could not be accounted for, and marijuana, cocaine, crack and pills listed on 1,318 evidence entry sheets could not be located or proved to have been destroyed by court order. Also, 16 rape kits were not labeled with name, bar code number or case number to link the assaults to the victims.

It's important stuff, and obviously, Kirkpatrick raises some great points. But the full answers, unfortunately, likely will never emerge, thanks to the secretive nature of the State Bureau of Investigation. That agency investigated the missing and mishandled evidence, but, as always, the SBI is about as talkative as Grandfather Mountain.

Noelle Talley, spokesman for the Attorney General's office, which oversees the SBI, told me to talk to the DA.

"I pointed you to the DA because you were asking whether cases had been compromised, and that's a question for the DA," Talley said via e-mail. "As you know, North Carolina law says that criminal investigative files are not public record. I am checking with the SBI to see if there is more we can share with you about this matter."

Guess what? I never heard back from her.

No cases compromised

Moore told me that he is "not aware of any cases that were compromised" because of the evidence room bungles.

He never received a formal SBI report, but he did speak with agents after they investigated some of the issues.

"With the lost evidence, there were some cases in which there were no suspects," Moore said, adding that in other cases that require comparative DNA or other materials for comparison the state would not test evidence. "There was no case I can put my finger on that was compromised."

As far as the money goes, Moore said the SBI checked into a half-dozen or so of the largest amounts.

"As I suspected, a lot of those monies had been seized by (North Carolina Department of) Revenue folks for drug taxes," Moore said. "For the first five or six amounts, they were able to trace the amounts seized and what had gone to drug taxes. After we saw that, we didn't bother chasing down the smaller amounts, like for $78. I said, 'Don't waste any more time on this.' The money appeared to me to mostly have been taken by the drug tax people, and that's always been standard procedure."

I called the local N.C. Department of Revenue for confirmation but didn't hear back for a week. Then the agent told me Friday to call the director in Raleigh. He was gone Friday afternoon.

As far as the guns, Moore said some of them had been destroyed. He didn't hear anything unusually suspicious about the remainder and told investigators if they found more troubling information to alert federal authorities, who are the ones who brought the case against Medford that ultimately put him away.

"Obviously, they (federal investigators) had bigger fish to fry," Moore said.

Suellen Pierce, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Medford, gave me nothing.

"Absent something on the public record, I'm not able to comment on this," she said.

I left messages for Sheriff Van Duncan, but I got no call back. Lt. Ross Dillingham, department spokesman, said no criminal charges ever came out of the evidence case.

Moore said Duncan overhauled the department, and the previous evidence room employees are gone. He described Duncan's evidence room as "absolutely professional" and "first class."

So, there we are. Crystal clear?

Anybody else have any problems with how investigative information, particularly that of the SBI, is disseminated?

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This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at , and read his blog at
citizen-times.com/boyleitdown

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