8,000 Inland cases in question in light of probe of former Riverside lab tech Posted on 3/27/2009 at 13:12:46 by Ken
The probe into the work of a former Riverside lab chemist has expanded to more than 8,000 Inland criminal cases, and the total is certain to grow as three Southern California counties and the state of Colorado investigate.
Authorities estimated this week that 4,500 San Bernardino County cases may be scrutinized. About 3,700 Riverside County cases are being reviewed, and public defenders have requested so far that two cases be reopened.
These cases include misdemeanor and felony charges, including cases that have already led to convictions.
All included evidence that was tested by lab tech Aaron Layton, who admitted to lying "hundreds of times" about work he did in Colorado, according to records from a polygraph test.
Layton, 30, was most recently a technician at Bio-Tox Laboratories in Riverside, which tests blood and urine samples in drug- and alcohol-related cases for San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties.
Investigations are also under way in San Diego County and throughout the state of Colorado. It's unclear how many cases have been affected in those areas.
Layton has not returned several calls seeking comment and has not responded to multiple subpoenas by the Riverside County public defender's office.
Bio-Tox is retesting samples in Riverside County cases. District attorney's officials have said they have no evidence that Layton mishandled any blood samples or lied about lab work while working at Bio-Tox.
Bio-Tox officials say there have been no inconsistencies in the approximately 500 samples they have retested so far.
"We're committed to assisting governmental agencies as they continue to investigate this matter," said Tracey Stangarone, business manager for Bio-Tox. "The retest results continue to be consistent with the original results and we remain confident it will continue to show there was no misconduct."
However, the Riverside County public defender's office said some of the results from independent retesting have been different from the original results Layton recorded.
A judge ordered the Riverside County district attorney's office last month to notify any defense attorneys whose cases may be affected, and to retest the samples if possible.
Authorities in San Bernardino and San Diego counties and Colorado said they were not aware of Layton's admissions until The Press-Enterprise contacted them or they read published articles.
Following those articles, the district attorney's offices in San Bernardino and San Diego counties have been compiling lists of cases Layton may have handled. San Diego officials said they plan to notify a defense attorney organization next week.
News of the investigations also prompted the Colorado state District Attorney's Council to send letters notifying every district attorney in the state, said Ted Tow, executive director of the organization.
S.B. County Cases
The San Bernardino district attorney's office has identified more than 4,200 cases in which Layton handled blood work, said Assistant District Attorney Dennis Christie. San Bernardino officials estimate another 300 cases will surface, Christie said.
San Bernardino County district attorney's officials said they have notified defense attorneys in only the six cases in which Layton testified, Christie said. They do not plan to notify additional defense attorneys or begin retesting samples until a court orders them to, he said.
Christie said they're only required by law to notify defense attorneys about a witness's background when a case goes to trial.
"At this point we're anticipating further litigation to address those requirements," he said.
San Bernardino County Public Defender Doreen Boxer said she intends to take the issue to court.
Boxer's office and its counterpart in Riverside County are seeking lists of cases Layton worked on from the two counties' district attorney's offices and have subpoenaed Bio-Tox for a complete list.
In court, Bio-Tox officials and deputy district attorneys in both counties have countered that a complete list cannot be turned over because of the privacy rights of Layton and the clients whose samples were tested. Bio-Tox also conducts tests in family law cases and officer-involved shooting investigations.
Boxer said she believes the law entitles attorneys and clients access to any information about a witness's background that would compromise a case.
She said it's too early to say what effect Layton's actions will have on her cases.
"In terms of the impact on the criminal justice system, it's a blight," Boxer said. "It highlights the need for a strong criminal defense bar."
Riverside County district attorney's officials began questioning Layton in December when he was listed as a potential witness and they conducted a routine background check.
That was when they discovered records from a polygraph test Layton took in 2003, when he applied for a job as a criminologist in Columbus, Ohio.
According to the polygraph records, Layton said that while he worked for Forensic Laboratories in Denver in 2000 and 2001, he would test samples once but would not conduct confirmation tests. He said the lab's owner told him not to because of the length of time the tests took, according to the polygraph records, which have been submitted into evidence in Riverside County Superior Court.
Layton said he never conducted confirmation tests, but would forge his employer's signature on court affidavits that said the work had been done. He also said he committed perjury by testifying in court that he conducted confirmation tests.
Forensic Laboratories officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Layton also admitted committing sexual assault as a juvenile, according to the polygraph records. Layton had told Riverside County prosecutors that he did not have a criminal record.
In January, prosecutors told Bio-Tox to have Layton stop testing and that his past work would not be usable. Layton was fired in February.
According to a confidential internal memo from the Colorado attorney general's office, Ohio police notified the state about Layton's admissions in October 2003.
Another 2003 letter from the Colorado attorney general's office said district attorneys in three Colorado counties would be notified of the polygraph records.
Layton was prosecuted for sex crimes in one of those counties because of the polygraph records, but it's unclear if any of the counties investigated the lab work.
Colorado attorney general spokesman Mike Saccone said that upon discovering the investigation in Riverside County, the attorney general's office notified the Colorado District Attorney's Council.
Colorado State Public Defender Doug Wilson said he was unaware of the investigation in 2003. He has requested documents from the Riverside County public defender's office.
"This looks like a huge issue we're looking at. We're anticipating a long, tedious process," Wilson said. "If this was caught in 2003, it would have been disclosed to us and we would have been notified six years ago. Who knows how many people already did their time. We don't know if there's damage or how much damage is done.
"Somebody dropped the ball. It's a matter of who dropped it and what's the extent of the ball-dropping. Now we're going to start digging."
Reach John Asbury at 951-763-3451or jasbury@PE.com