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Federal judge rejects convicted drug dealers’ ‘Annie Dookhan defense’

A federal judge in Boston has denied a motion from two men to withdraw their guilty pleas in a drug case tied to former state chemist Annie Dookhan, the first rejection of a so-called “Dookhan defense” in US District Court in the Hub, according to records and authorities.

In a ruling issued Wednesday, Judge Richard G. Stearns wrote that the two Boston men, Larry Wilkins and Ronald Merritt, admitted to their roles in the sale of crack cocaine to an undercover Boston police officer in April 2011.

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Stearns said that Dookhan, who is charged with mishandling and falsifying suspected drug samples at the now-shuttered Hinton lab in Jamaica Plain, tested some of the drugs in the case involving Wilkins and Merritt.

But, the judge wrote, a retest of more samples after the men filed their motions came back positive for cocaine base.

He said that he “does not dismiss” claims from defense counsel that they would not have advised their clients to plead guilty if they knew the extent of Dookhan’s alleged wrongdoing at the time.

However, “the court does not believe that there is a reasonable probability that either defendant would have foregone a guilty plea [whatever counsel’s advice] and taken his chances before a jury in light of the strength of the government’s evidence,” Stearns wrote.

“Dookhan’s mishandling of drug tests in other cases did not impugn the factual basis that supported the court’s acceptance of the guilty pleas.”

Robert S. Sinsheimer, a lawyer for Merritt, said Thursday that he had “great respect” for Stearns’s consideration of the case but pledged to appeal his ruling.

“I take Dookhan’s corruption personally,” Sinsheimer said.

“I feel I was duped by a pathological liar. My client, Mr. Merritt, has limited education, and he relied on me to give him honest advice.” he added. “How can I do that when I was not given honest facts?”

George F. Gormley, a lawyer for Wilkins, said he expects an appeal but declined further comment.

A spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said that Stearns’s ruling was the first rejection at the federal level in Boston of a defense motion to vacate guilty pleas in a case involving Dookhan.

At the state level, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said three juries in that county have recently convicted defendants who cited the Dookhan scandal at trial as grounds for acquittal.

Separately, the state’s highest court heard oral arguments Thursday in cases that could have broad implications for thousands of defendants who were convicted on drug charges tied to Dookhan.

The Supreme Judicial Court is weighing whether special magistrates have the authority to free Dookhan defendants while their motions for new trials are pending, among other issues.

Already, hundreds of offenders have been released after evidence analyzed by Dookhan was questioned.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@
globe.com
.

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