Mass. lab probe starts with 1,140 inmate cases
BOSTON (AP) — Faced with the daunting task of evaluating more than 34,000 drug cases handled by a Massachusetts chemist accused of misconduct, prosecutors and defense attorneys are starting with 1,140 cases of people who are already serving prison sentences based on potentially tainted evidence.
David Meier, a defense attorney and former prosecutor appointed to help sort through the legal quagmire created by the chemist’s alleged actions, on Monday turned over a list of 690 people currently serving sentences in state prisons and 450 who are currently serving sentences in county jails. Samples in all of the cases were tested by chemist Annie Dookhan, who state police say failed to follow testing protocols and deliberately mishandled evidence in some cases.
Meier said it is unclear how many of those samples might have been tainted by Dookhan’s actions, but said both sides want to deal first with people who are already in prison.
“That is our first priority, people who are presently incarcerated,” he said.
Meier said lawyers in those cases will now have to work out resolutions on a case-by-case basis.
“The merits and any alleged issues in any one of those cases is for prosecutors and defense attorneys and judges to determine,” he said.
State police have said Dookhan was involved in testing more than 60,000 drug samples involving about 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the Boston lab. Dookhan resigned in March during an internal investigation by the state Department of Public Health, which ran the lab until state police took over on July 1 as part of a budget directive.
Meier, who was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick last week, met Monday with a group of district attorneys, defense attorneys and public safety officials. After the meeting, Meier said he turned over a list of currently incarcerated defendants whose cases were worked on by Dookhan, either as the primary chemist, who performs an initial test on a drug sample, or as the secondary chemist, who performs a second, confirmatory test.
The list does not include thousands of people who are currently awaiting trial, are on probation or are serving federal sentences in cases in which Dookhan tested drug samples.
Since the lab was closed last month, judges in Suffolk and Norfolk counties have already begun to hear motions filed by defense attorneys seeking bail reductions for drug defendants awaiting trial in cases handled by Dookhan. Prosecutors have agreed to many of those motions, citing possibly tainted evidence.
Dookhan hasn’t been charged, but the state attorney general’s office is conducting a criminal investigation.
On Monday, a judge in Boston agreed to put the sentences of career criminal David Huffman on hold and set bail for him at $75,000 cash, with GPS monitoring. The 55-year-old Huffman had pleaded guilty in August to trafficking in heroin and cocaine, possession of oxycodone with the intent to distribute and unlawful possession of ammunition and a firearm as an armed career criminal He began serving concurrent seven- to 10-year sentences last month.
Huffman’s lawyer, Bernard Grossberg, said the next step will likely be for the defense to ask that Huffman be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.
“He would not have pleaded guilty to the gun charges if it was not part and parcel of his plea on the drug charges,” Grossberg said.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley, said prosecutors opposed the motion to put his sentence on the gun charges on hold. He said the gun evidence was tested in a different lab and was unaffected by the drug lab scandal.
“This is an individual who’s been involved in just about every type of property and violent crime over the course of 40 years. He is a mid-tier narcotics distributor and was a plague on the community,” Wark said.
“We believe the judge should have treated the two cases separately,” he said.
Dookhan has not responded to repeated requests for comment. Her father, Rasheed Khan, told The Associated Press that she had been “bullied and abused,” but he would not say by whom.
“No one has heard her side of the story,” Khan said outside his home in Kissimmee, Fla., on Saturday.
State police have said Dookhan failed to follow testing protocols and deliberately mishandled evidence in some cases.
In a letter sent to defense attorneys earlier this month, Max Stern, the president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he was told during a meeting with state officials that Dookhan was accused of deliberately tampering with evidence, including the weight of drug samples, which can affect the length of sentences given to drug defendants.
Associated Press Writer Mike Schneider contributed from Kissimmee, Fla.
© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.