Massachusetts Reeling From Crime Lab Mess
Massachusetts is reeling from a massive scandal in its state crime lab. Details are still emerging
about how it was possible for a woman who officials now call "a rogue chemist" to be hired despite not possessing the university
credentials she claimed on her resume, and how she could have continued to mishandle evidence, despite red flags
raised by co-workers, in as many as 40,000 cases over 10 years.
Countless convictions may be completely unravelled, some cases have already been dismissed against
defendants. More than 1,100 people have already been identified as serving time in prison for convictions obtained,
at least in part, due to allegedly mishandled tests by the chemist Annie Dookham, 34.
Lawyers are often prone to hyperbole while persuading others of the merits of their cases,
both in and out of the courtroom, but it may actually be understating the impact of the scandal to say it is "a
catastrophic failure and unmitigated disaster."
“Any person who’s been convicted of a drug crime in the last several years whose drugs
were tested at the lab was very potentially a victim of a very substantial miscarriage of justice," says defense attorney
John Martin. He represents the man believed to be the first convict sprung because of the scandal. Martin believes that innocent
people may have been jailed and that it's also likely many guilty people will go free.
David Danielli walked out of prison Thursday after a judge agreed his guilty plea was undermined by
questions about the evidence. Those same questions may also undermine efforts to retry him. Prosecutors and defense attorneys
alike are supporting the Danielli decision and are likely to agree to many more decisions like it in the coming months.
Dookhan was arrested on September 24, 2012 by state police at her family's home in Franklin, Massachusetts.
The Salem News reported an Essex County drug case was one of the first cases impeded by Dookham's alleged misconduct.
The case was first dismissed in March, when Dookham had stopped working in the crime lab. After it was refiled, it was dismissed
again because Dookham's work was being questioned on thousands of cases.
"It was the kind of case that defense lawyers usually concede is a tough one to beat: three hand-to-hand
sales of heroin to an undercover police officer, the marked money used for the transaction later found on the suspect. But
the case against Carlos Cedeno happened also to be one of thousands that hinged on the work of now-former state crime lab
chemist Annie Dookhan."
Dookham claimed to be processing substantially more cases than any of her co-workers, who had raised
doubts to superiors years ago, with no result. The Massachusets State Police report suggests Dookhan herself may have, at times, served in a quality
assurance role, as the lab’s quality control chemist, who typically runs daily tests to ensure scales are calibrated
and machines are running properly.
She's now accused of tampering with samples to make them weigh more, or even to test positive. It's more than a possibility that some weren't even tested at all. She and three others have already
lost their jobs, including Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, who resigned, saying that supervisors should
have picked up on red flags.
The Boston Globe interviewed forensics specialists, who said procedures Dookham appears to have circumvented are "fairly
standard, including having two chemists test every sample, but they were still not enough to prevent an ambitious chemist’s
rampant breaches of lab protocol, apparently to boost her performance record."