Sunday, November 24, 2013

Former Massachusetts state chemist pleads guilty to falsifying thousands of lab tests, 40,000 criminal trials now in question, 350 already released from prison. She served as 'expert' court witness until Feb. 2012

11/22/13, "Chemist who falsified drug tests in criminal cases goes to jail herself," csmonitor, F. Tepper

"A former state chemist for Massachusetts pleaded guilty Friday to breezing fraudulently through tens of thousands of tests used to prosecute drug-related crimes and then covering up her shortcuts. Annie Dookhan will serve three to five years in prison, and the Massachusetts criminal justice system must now reevaluate thousands of prosecutions that relied on her tests.

After initially denying the charges, Ms. Dookhan, who was born in Trinidad, raised in Boston, and is now a single mother in her 30s, changed her plea Friday. She pleaded guilty to 27 charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and tampering with evidence.

Dookhan's actions may have distorted the results of the criminal trials of more than 40,000 individuals, and close to 350 people have already been released from prison as a result, Boston public radio station WBUR reports. The Boston-area Department of Public Health laboratory where she had worked for 10 years was closed in August 2012 after the scandal surfaced, and the Associated Press reports that 1,100 criminal cases have been dismissed or not prosecuted as a result.

Judge Carol S. Ball, who delivered Dookhan's sentence in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, said in her ruling that “the consequences of her behavior, which she ought to have foreseen, have been nothing short of catastrophic." She continued, "Innocent persons were incarcerated, guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core."

As of Friday, the state had spent a total of $8.5 million responding to the drug lab crisis, AP reports, and another $8.6 million was authorized to be spent in the current fiscal year, according to Alex Zaroulis, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

Dookhan was removed from her laboratory duties after she was caught forging a colleague's initials in June 2011, according to The New York Times. But she continued to serve as an expert court witness until she was put on administrative leave in February 2012. In August 2012, she admitted to having mishandled samples, and a subsequent investigation, CNN said, alleged that she had routinely tampered with criminal evidence by altering vials of substances awaiting evaluation for drug content.

She altered them, allegedly, to cover up the practice of "dry labbing" samples, which means testing only a fraction of a group of samples before marking them all positive for illegal drugs....

According to The New York Times, at least 50 of the defendants who have been released from jail because of the scandal, now known as "Dookhan defendants," have been rearrested. Two were murdered upon their release, and one man, Donta Hood, who had been serving time for cocaine possession, is back behind bars after allegedly shooting a man during a drug dispute."...


11/11/13, "Annie Dookhan pleads guilty in drug lab scandal," Boston Globe, M. Valencia, J. Ellement

"Annie Dookhan, the drug analyst who tampered with evidence and jeopardized tens of thousands of criminal convictions,
was sentenced Friday to three to five years in state prison, closing a sorrowful chapter for the woman at the center of a scandal that continues to plague the state’s criminal justice system. ...
Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office prosecuted the case, said in an interview later that the conviction of Dookhan was only one part of an ongoing investigation into the quality of drug testing at the Hinton drug lab, but she said it was needed to bring some accountability for her crimes. ...

Dookhan admitted to filing false test results and mixing drug samples, and to later lying under oath about her job qualifications, but she said it was only to boost her work performance. ...

Developments in the scandal went beyond Dookhan’s plea and sentencing. The Globe learned Friday night that State Police have fired a drug analyst who worked with Dookhan at the lab when it was run by the Department of Public Health. The former analyst, Kate A. Corbett, was fired for allegedly falsely claiming in court testimony that she had a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, according to a source familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly.

David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, would only say that the analyst — he did not identify Corbett by name — was fired after State Police took over the lab and began reviewing employees. He said investigators found discrepancies in what she stated about her academic record, and the discrepancies have been referred to prosecutors and defense attorneys already involved in the Dookhan scandal.

By all accounts, the scandal at the Hinton laboratory in Jamaica Plain is the worst to hit the state’s criminal justice system in recent memory, and is still deepening. Officials have determined that Dookhan was involved in more than 40,000 cases at the lab from 2003-2012, possibly tainting the integrity of the evidence in those cases. 

Defendants have asked that their convictions be tossed, or that they be released from prison as they seek new trials. Public safety officials feared their release would create a crime wave. So far, the state has spent $8.5 million reviewing the drug cases and holding special hearings for defendants, and officials have budgeted an additional $8.6 million, expecting the costs to increase....

By August, a year after the extent of Dookhan’s crimes were first discovered, a Globe review of court records showed that more than 600 defendants had convictions against them erased or temporarily set aside, or they have been released on bail pending new trials.

Of those, at least 83 defendants — about 13 percent of the total — had been arrested and charged with other crimes. 

In one case, a Brockton man released from prison last fall because Dookhan was involved in his case was arrested for allegedly killing a man in a drug dispute in May. 

Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said that the lab scandal has burdened district attorneys and the courts. At times, the courts have had to release prisoners or grant them new trials “in the interests of fair justice,” he said....

Defense lawyers have called on the state Trial Court to set up an independent special court system to review evidence that was handled not only by Dookhan, but by anyone from the Hinton laboratory. The lab, which was closed by State Police in 2012, handled more than 190,000 cases since the early 1990s.

The state Office of Inspector General is also conducting an independent probe to determine whether the laboratory followed its own policies and whether those policies met national standards, said Jack Meyers, a spokesman."...image above Annie Dookhan, Boston Globe

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