Crime & Courts

Former state crime lab employee pleads guilty to theft, evidence tampering

Stephen Palmer, a former Alaska crime lab analyst charged with stealing drugs on the job and using them to feed an addiction, pleaded guilty to several offenses on Friday in Anchorage Superior Court.

Judge Michael Spaan accepted Palmer's guilty pleas to five charges: second-degree theft, tampering with physical evidence, two counts of fourth-degree misconduct with illegal drugs and "official misconduct," according to the Alaska Department of Law.

The official misconduct misdemeanor charge means Palmer used his government position to commit a crime. All other charges are felonies carrying maximum five-year prison terms and $50,000 fines.

Palmer originally faced six felonies, including scheme to defraud and a second-degree drug charge.

The state accused Palmer in March 2014 of stealing drug evidence and drug samples from the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage while he worked there. He added adulterants to the drug samples in an attempt to cover up the thefts, prosecutors said.

Palmer worked at the crime lab from 1992 until 2011, and for six of those years he used heroin and methamphetamine every day, charging documents say. He resigned in December 2011.

Samples that Palmer stole are known as reference standards, which the crime lab uses to compare to suspected drugs seized by law enforcement.


In the wake of Palmer's arrest, defense attorneys argued Palmer's crimes may have altered evidence in numerous cases. John Skidmore, chief of the Department of Law, said at that time that he was not concerned about altered drug sample issues affecting cases.

However, Skidmore said the larger dilemma was missing drug evidence, as defendants have the right to independently tested seized drugs.

Skidmore said in a phone interview that the issue hasn't come up.

"I have not seen any filing from defense counsel anywhere in the state based on evidence that their clients thought were missing," he said. "Specifically, anything related to Stephen Palmer."

As for the reference standards, defense attorneys initially asked how the altered samples could affect cases. The Department of Law provided information about the standards, Skidmore said, and the inquiries stopped months ago. He contends defense attorneys realized Palmer's alterations to the standards would not make a difference in the prosecution of cases.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Henderson said Palmer, as a part of the plea agreement, agreed to answer all questions truthfully in post-conviction relief matters in which his forensic testing is at issue.

"He could be called by the state or defense attorneys," Henderson said.

Palmer's sentencing is set for June 5.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.