EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 16, 2012

Inmates freed during state crime lab legal challenges


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — 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.”

During the morning session, McEvoy granted defense motions to place sentences on hold and set bail for about 10 inmates now serving time at the state prison in Norfolk. Prosecutors agreed to those motions after producing drug analysis certificates showing that Dookhan was the chemist who performed either an initial test or a second confirmatory test on the substances.

In several cases, Assistant District Attorney Paul Treseler requested cash bail of $10,000 or $15,000, noting that the defendants had long criminal records and histories of violating their probation or failing to show up for court.

In most cases, McEvoy set lower bail than the amounts sought by prosecutors but higher than the amount requested by defense attorneys.

The judge made it clear that the cases against the inmates were not over. She ordered all of them to appear in court for a status conference next month.

Dookhan and her attorney have repeatedly declined to comment on the charges against her. Last week, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify at a drug defendant’s trial.