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Former Central Point crime lab tech under investigation in OSP probe

From staff and wire reports

Oregon State Police said Friday that an analyst who retired from the agency's Central Point crime lab in 2013 had been under investigation for possible misconduct prior to the disclosure that a current analyst at OSP's Bend laboratory was suspected of tampering with drug evidence.

According to an OSP news release, the Central Point analyst, identified by The Oregonian as Jeff Dovci, testified in the 2005 trial of Samuel Adam Lawson, a Roseburg man charged with the 2003 murder of 52-year-old Noris Hilde and the attempted murder of Hilde's wife, Sherl, at Briggs Camp in the Umpqua National Forest. The jury convicted Lawson of five counts of aggravated murder, three counts of attempted aggravated murder and two counts of first-degree robbery, based largely on Sherl Hilde's testimony.

The Oregon Supreme Court overturned Lawson's conviction in 2012 and ordered a new trial, saying Hilde's identification of Lawson was unreliable. The Douglas County District Attorney's Office turned the case over to the Oregon Department of Justice, which ultimately decided to dismiss the charges in 2014.

State police said in reviewing records for a subpoena, forensics staff and an Oregon Department of Justice attorney found material that "potentially cast doubt on the analyst's future testimony." Authorities said the problem with Dovci's work wasn't that he tampered with evidence, but that his testimony overstated the strength of the evidence.

Dovci, now a private forensic consultant, said he did not steal anything, did not falsify results, and the state's allegations about his interpretation of evidence are a matter of opinion.

The disclosure follows OSP's announcement earlier in the week that an analyst at its laboratory in Bend, identified by The Oregonian as 35-year-old Nika Larsen, was placed on administrative leave this month following allegations of tampering with drug evidence, sparking the review of hundreds of cases she had worked on. Larsen is accused of stealing pills and other drugs and replacing them with over-the-counter pills. The newspaper said Larsen could not be reached for comment. 

The discovery puts current cases and convictions in doubt and could cost counties thousands to retest and retry cases. OSP declined to publicly release the number of potentially affected cases, citing its ongoing criminal investigation.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he must retest the evidence in 502 cases dating back to 2012. In Klamath County, District Attorney Rob Patridge said he's reviewing 328 cases dating as far back as 2007.

The majority of cases with evidence worked by Larsen are from eastern Oregon. Ulys Stapleton, district attorney in Lake County, said only about a dozen of his cases were affected and that two cases remain pending.