JUNE 6. 1993

Crime Lab Probe Embarrasses State Police
David Wilkison



BECKLEY (AP) - An investigation into the West Virginia state police crime lab has been an embarrassment to the agency, but the lab itself is not at fault and continues to exceed national standards, Col. Thorn Kirk said Saturday.

"There has been no solid proof of misconduct, no indictments But if there was a problem, there was a problem with that person and not the lab," said Kirk, the superintendent of state police.

At the request of Kanawha County prosecutor Bill Forbes, the state Supreme Court this week

appointed retired Judge James 0. Holliday of Putnam County to Investigate the work of former Trooper Fred Zain on 600 rape and murder cases between 1985 and 1989.

Zain was chief of serology during that time, and frequently testified about hair, blood and semen samples.

His work came into question when Forbes began an investigation into the handling of the Glen Dale Woodall case. Woodall spent five years in prison after being convicted in 1987 for two rapes he did not commit. Woodall was released last year after genetic tests proved he could not have been the assailant.

"Without a doubt, that is an embarrassment," Kirk told reporters attending the West Virginia Associated Press Broadcasters Association convention. "Just the fact our state police crime lab now is at the forefront of the media's attention," is embarrassing, he said.

Kirk had asked Forbes to look into the Woodall case last mouth and determine whether findings may have been falsified. Zain has denied wrongdoing.

"The things that Zain did as far as we can tell were done to the standards at that time," Kirk said.

But Forbes said he wants to be sure other innocent people were not convicted based on Zain's work.

"His interpretation of those results and one of our chemists or a chemist in Connecticut might not interpret them the same, and that's why we're taking a close look at them," Kirk said.

The 600 cases being re-examined involve cases Zain investigated directly and cases in which he approved the findings. 

"I would hope that Zain didn't do anything purposely wrong, Kirk said. "I feel not only bad for him. I feel bad for us because we're going to have to suffer through'

Kirk also said Saturday that improved communications between local agencies and the state police might have prevented the shooting death of a state trooper In April.

Trooper Larry Hacker was shot while investigating a dispute between two neighbors In Pullman. Dennis Ferguson, 67, has been charged with first-degree murder and remains in the Ritchie County Jail without bond.

Kirk said a sheriff's deputy at the scene had learned from a neighbor that Ferguson allegedly had been firing a gun all day, but the officer had no way of alerting Hacker.

"That turned a serious situation into a critical one," Kirk said. "It was information that if Trooper Hacker had at that time, he may have been more cautious than what he was."

While Hacker followed all proper procedures, Kirk said he would push for "first response" training this year for troopers and local officers who arrive on the scene first.