INDIO- In a letter obtained today by City News Service, Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco expressed serious concerns about the credibility of a laboratory technician who has worked on thousands of criminal cases.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mark A. Mandio formally ordered the District Attorney’s Office to review about 3,000 cases — including past convictions — after discovering that Aaron Layton, who worked on those cases, had admitted falsifying lab reports in another state.
Layton is no longer employed at Bio-Tox Laboratories, which the District Attorney’s Office contracts to conduct blood work in cases involving alcohol and drugs.
The District Attorney’s Office began an investigation in December into whether Layton had lied about his criminal history.
By January, investigators confirmed Layton’s history and took action, District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall said.
“We immediately brought it to the attention of the defense counsel and the court and began an investigation compiling a list of cases past and current,” Hall said, adding that Bio-Tox was also informed of the discovery.
Tracey Stangarone, a business manager for the Riverside-based company, said she had no comment about Layton’s two-year tenure at Bio-Tox.
“Bio-Tox is cooperating with the D.A.’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office to move through this ongoing investigation as quickly as possible,” Stangarone said.
In the letter dated Feb. 17, Pacheco wrote that Layton lied about his criminal history to a deputy district attorney.
Pacheco wrote that when Layton applied for a job with the Columbus, Ohio Police Department in 2003, he admitted during a polygraph test to falsifying reports “hundreds of times” while working for Forensic Laboratories, Inc. in 2001.
Layton said he falsified the reports by failing to confirm test results, as required, Pacheco wrote.
Pacheco also claimed that “while employed by Forensic Laboratories, Inc., he forged his employer’s signature and used his notary stamp on documents, including court affidavits involving evidence and procedural results.”
Hall said he could not comment on whether Layton has a criminal history in Riverside County.
Layton’s history goes beyond his admission of fraud, forgery and perjury. According to the letter, Layton admitted that when he was 17, he molested a 13-year-old boy by fondling him and performing other sexual acts during eight occasions.
Pacheco wrote that Layton was contacted by the Colorado Springs Police Department in February 2007 for failing to register as a sex offender, and was placed on probation until November 2009.
The thousands of cases affected could range from drunk in public violations and misdemeanor driving under the influence to felony alcohol- related manslaughter and murder charges, Hall said.
“We are taking this very seriously because it casts it casts doubt on the credibility of the justice system,” Hall said.
The District Attorney’s Office has been seeking protective orders from judges to restrict defense attorneys from sharing Layton’s history with their clients, according to court records and defense lawyers.
Hall said he could not immediately comment on why the District Attorney’s Office was pursuing the protective orders.
Attorney Susanne Cho said that a deputy district attorney approached her last week about several misdemeanor driving under the influence cases. Cho said the prosecutor told her he had information to give her, but first she had to sign a protective order.
Cho told the prosecutor “no,” and demanded a hearing in front of Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jorge C. Hernandez.
Cho said Hernandez denied the protective order Wednesday because there was “no law or public policy” to protect Layton and his criminal history and his admission to falsifying records.
That was when Cho said she first learned about Layton’s past.
“I was stunned,” Cho said. “It raises a doubt about the integrity of the process.”
Cho said she has requested a list of cases Layton worked on from the District Attorney’s Office. She said the scope of this finding is huge because juries often use blood-alcohol and other blood test reports to determine convictions.
“There are past cases here where people have pleaded guilty because the drug results were high,” Cho said. “We have a duty to inform those clients that their records and their test results may have been falsified.”
Cho said she knows of several defense lawyers who were “blindsided” by prosecutors requests, and agreed to sign the order.
“(The attorneys) didn’t know initially what the D.A.s were talking about,” Cho said
Cho said Hernandez tentatively agreed to undo any protective orders. She said he is expected to make a sweeping ruling about the orders soon, but she did not know when.
Hall said the District Attorney’s Office has not tried to suppress any information about Layton.
“We are not suppressing anything,” Hall said. “We are trying to uphold the credibility of the criminal justice system.”