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Report: Former state lab supervisor involved in possible cover-up

DENVER — An internal review of the state crime laboratory, which concluded in March but was only released on Friday, reportedly found that the supervisor overseeing the lab was often biased in favor of prosecutors.

The audit, conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, determined in March that Cynthia Burbach, the former supervisor of the state’s CDPHE lab, may have tampered with or even lied about forensic tests in court.

The report dated March 13 was only sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper, all Colorado district attorneys and public defenders office and other interested parties late in the day on Friday, June 7.

VIEW: CDPHE Letter and Report

“The D.A.’s may have known there’s been a problem with state lab and still sat on it,” Dan Schoen, the executive director of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, told FOX31 Denver Sunday.

“They’ve possibly blocked these disclosures and violated their responsibility by sitting on this information knowing it’s been affecting cases. They are constitutionally required to disclose this and we’ve had months of convictions and defendants taking pleas possibly without evidence being disclosed that could have freed them.”

Burbach, who served in the position for more than a decade before she abruptly resigned last week, stopped signing the laboratory’s official reports shortly after the audit was completed, according to Schoen, who has long been suspicious of the state lab and has spent three years trying to bring this information to light.

Schoen’s organization informed FOX31 Denver and other media outlets about the letter in a press release Sunday afternoon about its scheduled press conference at noon on Monday.

According to the press release, the lab supervisor, whose identity has thus far been withheld, operated with a bias “against individuals accused of crimes who were seeking exoneration at trial” and “in favor of getting convictions over doing justice and of helping prosecutors win trials over advancing science and the truth seeking process.”

Interestingly, Burbach was the state’s key witness at the Capitol in recent years testifying in favor of setting a five nanogram marijuana bloodstream limit, something opponents of the proposal have decried and argued isn’t based on real science.

Burbach testified in favor of the Driving Under the Influence of Drugs proposals in 2011 and 2012 but did not this year, when the proposal finally passed and was signed into law.

“I never saw her as a liability,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler told FOX31 Denver Sunday night. “I always saw her as value-added when she was testifying in court.”

Brauchler didn’t want to comment further until reading the full report, but said he’d been aware that Burbach was considering resigning.

“I don’t know if this has to do with the report or not,” he said. “I do know that the Criminal Justice Defense Bar have had their knives out for her for years.”

The audit itself was spurred by complaints from defense attorneys and by two employees at the state lab who came forward and questioned Burbach’s practices.