Disgraced SF crime lab technician says murder case isn’t tainted 

The former criminalist whose drug scandal ended drug testing by the police department and forced the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases opened up in court Tuesday about her addiction but insisted that it had no impact on her performance in a nearly 30-year-old murder case.

Debbie Madden, 61, was called to testify in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday morning in the trial of Dwight Culton, accused in the April 6, 1984 murder of Joan Baldwin.  It was the first nondrug case in which Madden has been called to testify since her retirement in 2009.

Baldwin was found stabbed inside the former Earl Scheib auto paint shop at 555 Bryant St., where she worked and had been sleeping because of a fight with her boyfriend, according to police and prosecutors.

Culton, 61, a former assistant manager at the shop, was arrested in 2006 after a DNA hit linked him to the crime. His blood was allegedly found on Baldwin’s body. Madden, who began working for the Police Department in 1980, was called to the scene to collect the blood evidence.

On the stand, Madden repeated what she told police investigators in 2010, that she had taken small amounts of cocaine on a handful of occasions in fall 2009. She has been given immunity from prosecution for her testimony.

“My issue was, is that I’m an alcoholic,” Madden testified. “In an attempt to control my drinking, a little bit of cocaine that was spilled from some of my cases, I took from the countertop.”

Culton’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Bicka Barlow, tried to create doubt about Madden’s reliability as a witness during her cross examination.

Barlow asked Madden if she suffered memory loss as a result of her addiction, to which Madden replied she didn’t know.

“I probably was always an alcoholic, but it became very serious in 2009,” Madden said. Asked if the alcohol abuse affected her performance on the job, she responded, “No.”

Madden said she hadn’t been using cocaine in 1984, and hadn’t been drinking the day she was called to the crime scene. She said she followed the proper standards and practices of criminology at the time.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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