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Boston and Beyond

September 25, 2012

Mass. lab probe starts with 1,140 inmate cases

BOSTON — 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.

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