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Audit shows former state crime lab supervisor biased in favor of prosecutors

By Lindsay Watts, Weekend GMC Anchor/Target 13 Investigator , l.watts@krdo.com
Published On: Jun 10 2013 02:42:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 10 2013 07:50:09 PM CDT
DENVER -

Thousands of drunk-driving cases could be impacted after an internal investigation found that the supervisor of the state's crime lab was biased in favor of the prosecution and may have lied about cases.

The report also shows that toxicology lab analysts feel they are not properly trained to provide expert testimony in court.

The audit of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was completed in March, but only recently released to the public.

The report provides testimony from eight employees in the state's crime lab who say that supervisor Cynthia Burbach, who resigned last week after holding the position more than a decade, was biased toward prosecutors in DUI cases.

"She has talked about a few opinion letters she has written in cases where she did not think the defendant was guilty," the report quotes one employee as saying about Burbach, "but overall I feel like she wants defendants to be convicted because she thinks they are guilty."

Another employee told investigators, "She seems to feed off DAs getting guilty verdicts. But we're not part of the judicial system. The scientists and I don't feel like we should concern ourselves with the outcomes of trials."

A third employee said that after a Jefferson County judge dismissed charges against a defendant, Burbach "yelled down the hallway at the defendant and said something like, 'They'll get you next time,' or, 'You'll be back again.' I thought it was very inappropriate."

The audit also shows that lab employees "perceive that blood alcohol training protocols for toxicology lab analysts are inadequate" and that "they are not adequately trained to provide fact or expert testimony in court."

"This is significant for all Coloradans regardless of whether they've been charged with a criminal case or not," said Colorado Springs attorney Tim Bussey. "Because it goes to the fundamental fairness of the criminal justice system."

The Colorado Attorney General's Office released the report late Friday to the governor's office and all county district attorneys in Colorado. That was 12 weeks after the audit was finished.

Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Chris Urbina said the report was considered a confidential personnel matter at first, but he said action was taken immediately.

"We immediately assessed everybody's training and competency," Urbina said. "So now everybody is either trained or in the process of getting trained."

As for Burbach, Urbina said: "We removed that supervisor from any testimony in court so there would be no future concerns about that person."

TARGET 13 asked how Burbach was able to keep her job until she retired on May 31.

"Because we handled the allegations by removing the bias," he said. "And remember, I can't make a decision about bias. These are subjective concerns and allegations."

Pueblo County DA Jeff Chostner told TARGET 13 that he would be looking at all the cases Burbach testified in in Pueblo, noting that since he took over as DA in January, his office has not used Burbach as a witness.

"Obviously, there's concern that there's been wrongdoing and inappropriate action in the lab," Chostner said. "We want to make sure justice is done and make sure evidence was not manufactured or tainted because of incompetence or bias."

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office still uses the state lab and said it has no plans to stop.

In a statement Monday to TARGET 13, EPCSO said, "We are confident in the integrity of our DUI blood samples processed by the CDPHE and the Defense has the option to have the blood samples tested by an independent lab if they choose."

Colorado Springs Police had already stopped using the state lab and now does tests at a private lab in Boulder.

Last year, 1,700 DUI blood tests had to be re-tested after an employee failed to follow proper testing protocols. The employee has blamed Burbach, saying she was responsible for reviewing his work.

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