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7 defendants gain relief in cases tied to state lab scandal

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Christine M. McEvoy reviewed some cases Wednesday that were possibly handled by a former state chemist accused of mishandling drug evidence.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Christine M. McEvoy reviewed some cases Wednesday that were possibly handled by a former state chemist accused of mishandling drug evidence.

When federal agents closed in on German Rios on April 21, 2011, at the Woods Island ­MBTA Station, they found a half kilogram of cocaine in his backpack, according to a police report. Rios was sentenced to seven years in prison for drug trafficking.

But Wednesday, he was back in court along with 19 other ­defendants before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Christine M. McEvoy, as part of a parade of drug cases connected to former state chemist Annie Dookhan.

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Rios was one of seven defendants to be granted relief in the widening drug-lab controversy, as McEvoy stayed his sentence and set bail at $5,000 cash. But Rios and at least two others whose cases were reviewed Wednesday are in the country illegally and face deportation even if they do post bail.

“He’s ready to go back,’’ said Andrew Stockwell-Alpert, Rios’ attorney. “He has accepted that he will be deported and just wants to put this all behind him.”

Since Monday, about 83 ­cases in Suffolk County have been heard in special session, and 39 people who were serving sentences have been either granted bail or had convictions overturned. The special session is expected to last at least two weeks to address nearly 200 ­legal challenges. Similar sessions are underway or about to start in other courts across the state.

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In a scandal that appears to grow weekly, court workers have been putting in overtime to deal with the cavalcade of cases, and police have asked the state for more money to monitor those who have been ­released.

Dookhan was one of two chemists who examined the evidence linked to the Rios case and declared it to be cocaine, leading the office of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley to support Rios’s request that his state prison sentence be put on hold while the lab investigation continues.

Stockwell-Alpert said he has represented hundreds of clients on drug offenses since 1993, when Dookhan started working at the now-shuttered Department of Public Health lab in ­Jamaica Plain. He said Dookhan is linked to most of those cases.

“No juror in the Commonwealth will ever convict anyone on an Annie Dookhan case ever again,” Stockwell-Alpert predicted.

On Wednesday, the defendants appeared in court via teleconferencing, each sittingbehind a wooden table at MCI-Cedar Junction prison in ­Walpole.

Minutes after Rios’s case was heard, attorney Scott Gediman obtained a stay of sentence for his client, Juan Cotilla, convicted last year of drug distribution and sentenced to three years in state prison.

“A lot of these guys, about 80 to 90 percent of them, are very small time, minor,” Gediman said. “My client is a Pine Street Inn guy,” he said, referring to thehomeless shelter.

Jake Wark, spokesman for Conley, disputed Gediman’s asser­tion, saying the defendants authorities were seeing in the Superior Court sessions have lengthy records, convictions for violent crimes, or both.

“Small-time defendants don’t get indicted, convicted, and sent to state prison, as ­every one of these defendants has,” Wark said.

Dookhan has admitted to State Police that she falsified and mishandled drug evidence, potentially jeopardizing up to 34,000 drug cases she took part in during her nine-year career at the lab. She is free on $10,000 cash bail after she pleaded not guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of falsifying her academic records.

McEvoy declined to rule on a couple of cases. In those cases, Dookhan’s name was attached to at least one evidence confirmation, but the defendants were also convicted on other charges in which Dookhan played no role.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.
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