EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

September 12, 2012

Gov. Patrick: Prompt action needed on closed crime lab for sake of jailed defendants

BOSTON — Defense attorneys will need to team up with prosecutors as well as probation, parole and corrections officials to identify those whose convictions might be jeopardized by drug evidence under review in an unfolding crime lab crisis, Gov. Deval Patrick wrote in a letter this week to frustrated district attorneys.

Patrick’s letter, sent Tuesday, was in response to a letter the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association wrote seeking more information on cases that could be jeopardized by “breaches of protocol” in a chemist’s work analyzing and weighing drugs. State officials have provided prosecutors with a list of 60,000 drug samples handled by the chemist dating back to 2003 but tying those samples to actual cases has proved trying.

“[T]he District Attorneys have not been provided with any real information to guide us toward our overriding goal of ensuring that justice is done,” Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe wrote in a Sept. 6 letter. “In fact, due to the barebones nature of the enormous list we were given, we still do not know exactly how many actual cases these tens of thousands of samples correlate to or which of these samples connects to cases where someone is presently incarcerated and whose liberty literally hangs in the balance.”

In response, Patrick wrote that state authorities would need to work with the DA’s to determine “which samples pertain to defendants currently incarcerated,” and said the state would help prosecutors coordinate with others to match potentially jeopardized samples with defendants.

“We will assist in these efforts by creating a central office with a dedicated team for that task,” Patrick wrote. The governor also said he had asked for an investigation by Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby into the problems and the “delay” in reporting those problems to him and to the state’s district attorneys.

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