Review: “Rogue” chemist dealt with 1,141 imprisoned felons

By 
Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Sep. 25, 2012

The chemist at the center of a massive evidence tainting scandal at a state lab handled drug samples for 1,141 felons currently serving time in a state prison, jail or county house of correction, according the attorney leading the probe.

David Meier, appointed last week by Gov. Deval Patrick to lead a new office tasked with linking the 60,000 samples touched by chemist Annie Dookhan over her nine-year career with specific cases, said a team worked through the weekend to identify those individuals.

Meier said it was his and Gov. Patrick’s top priority to first identify those individuals currently incarcerated whose cases may have been mishandled by Dookhan. Meier was careful to point out that Dookhan only served as the primary or secondary chemist on each of those 1,141 cases, and the list does not reflect a determination that drug samples in those cases had been mishandled.

Meier said the list includes 690 individuals currently locked up in state prison and another 450 in a county jail or house of correction. The former prosecutor and current defense attorney acknowledged that the list may not be “100 percent accurate,” but is based on the best data available.

Meier and Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan met for over 90 minutes Monday afternoon with defense attorneys and state and federal prosecutors to review the findings and discuss the next steps in the investigation.

The implications, however, could be far reaching, and Meier said it would be up to the lawyers involved and the courts to determine whether convictions should be thrown out or sentences reduced. He called the meeting on Monday “very productive, worthwhile, and meaningful” and said all parties were working together. Already several cases winding their way through the courts have been impacted by the revelations of the investigation.

“The merits and any alleged issues in any one of those cases is for prosecutors and defense attorneys and judges to determine,” Meier said.

The central office Meier oversees will now begin focusing its efforts on identifying those individuals whose cases were handled by Dookhan who were previously convicted and served their time, or were previously on probation, parole or otherwise punished, Meier said.

The former Department of Public Health drug crime lab in Jamaica Plain was closed in late August as evidence of the mishandling of drug samples surfaced, with implications for evidence tested in criminal cases for district attorneys in Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, and Bristol counties and the Cape and Islands.

The list given by Meier to district attorneys and defense attorneys includes the names of approximately 22 individuals who may be the subject of ongoing deportation or related immigration proceedings. It did not include those who may be on probation or parole, awaiting trial on bail, serving time in a federal prison on drug charges, or those who have already been released after serving their full sentence.

State officials have estimated that Dookhan handled samples involving 34,000 cases since 2003. The remaining cases presumably fall into one of previously mentioned categories, officials said.

Dookhan, who worked for the Department of Public Health for nine years before resigning in March, allegedly tampered with drug samples to alter their weights or produce false-positive tests, according to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Lab supervisors discovered in June 2011 that Dookhan had performed drug tests on 90 evidence samples without signing them out, and then added her initials and others' initials to the sign-out book after the fact. The supervisors removed Dookhan from full-time testing, though she continued to perform periodic testing, and did not inform DPH authorities until December, when a DPH investigation began.

The meeting was attended by several dozen attorneys on both sides of the bar, including Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz, Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni and members of the state and federal public and private defense community.