EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

October 16, 2012

Inmates freed during state crime lab legal challenges

BOSTON (AP) — One at a time, the prison inmates sat down at a wooden table, linked by video conference to a Boston courtroom, where their attorneys and prosecutors explained the role a disgraced chemist played in their criminal cases.

One by one, the judge agreed to let them go free while their legal challenges make their way through the courts, placing their sentences on hold and setting bail.

The fallout from a scandal at a state drug lab played out in court Monday, as Judge Christine McEvoy began hearing what is expected to be nearly 200 legal challenges in Suffolk Superior Court drug cases.

The chemist, Annie Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, has been charged with obstruction of justice and accused of skirting protocols and faking tests results at a former Department of Public Health lab. The Boston lab was closed by state police in August after Dookhan told them she had faked test results, forged paperwork and sometimes mixed samples. She has pleaded not guilty.

The scandal has put thousands of criminal cases in jeopardy. Dookhan tested more than 60,000 samples covering about 34,000 defendants in her nine years at the lab, according to state police.

Monday was the first day of a two-week special session set up to hear challenges in Suffolk Superior Court, which covers Boston. Similar sessions have been scheduled in courts around the state. The first sessions were held in Boston Municipal Court earlier this month.

The assembly line-style of hearing cases via video conference made for some unusually casual moments.

After the judge greeted the first inmate, he responded, “How ya doin’?”

The judge told another defendant she would set bail at $1,000 and asked him if he agreed to the terms of his release, including GPS monitoring and an overnight curfew. The inmate responded, “Yes, I’m OK with that.”

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