The lawyer for disgraced chemist Annie Dookhan is seeking to have 11 obstruction of justice charges against her dismissed, arguing that there is no evidence that his client willfully misled anyone during her testimony in those cases in Essex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Middlesex, and Bristol Counties.
On May 7, Suffolk Superior Court judge Jeffrey Locke rejected a similar motion by lawyer Nicolas Gordon to have two obstruction of justice charges in Suffolk County dismissed. Locke ruled that her testimony, specifically that she had a master’s degree from UMass, was misleading. A law enforcement investigation revealed that she did not hold such a degree.
Rather than have 11 separate hearings on each charge from the five counties, there will be a single hearing before a Suffolk Superior Court judge to rule on this latest motion filed by Gordon. The hearing was scheduled for Friday but was rescheduled for June 27 because not all of the paperwork from those counties has arrived at the Suffolk courthouse.
Dookhan is under indictment on 27 charges, and the lab where she worked, a Department of Public Health facility at the Hinton Laboratory in Jamaica Plain, has been closed. The Patrick administration has estimated Dookhan’s alleged misdeeds affected 34,000 cases while the ACLU and the Committee on Public Counsel Services say as many as 190,000 cases should be dismissed. Dookhan has admitted to falsifying results over nine years.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said his office has handled roughly 2,000 cases so far involving drug defendants in prison or awaiting trial on drug charges, and that there are approximately 30 cases remaining. He was unsure how many of those defendants have been released, but said it was in the “hundreds.”
“The murder recently in Brockton is illustrative of the problem we’re facing in trying to balance two interests — justice and public safety,” O’Keefe said. “Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are calling for blanket releases of every case in which evidence came into the lab during the time she was there. We think that’s completely wrong and the Brockton murder demonstrates that.”
Donta Hood, 22, had at least two years remaining on his prison term when his conviction was tossed out last fall after it was discovered that Dookhan had handled the evidence and testified at his trial. Prosecutors say he fatally shot a 45-year-old Brockton man on May 14 in the chest several times. The case is the first homicide allegedly committed by an offender freed as a result of the Dookhan scandal.
“It’s true there has been this tragedy in Brockton involving someone whose case was dropped, but no one on the prosecution side has proved that fighting these cases one at a time will do anything but cost enormous amounts of taxpayer’s money,” said Matthew Segal, the legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts. “Just about any piece of evidence that Annie Dookhan touched or could have touched should never be considered in a courtroom.”
A House panel recently approved Governor Deval Patrick’s request for $30 million from the state’s “rainy day” fund to pay the initial costs stemming from the scandal, to be distributed between the court system, prosecutors, public defenders and various agencies. The money would be used to offset costs associated with a crisis that threatens to unravel thousands of criminal cases.
O’Keefe said his office has already used all of its $148,000 allotment this year, and the total for all counties involved is over $2.1 million so far.
An ongoing noncriminal investigation by the inspector general’s office is likely to shed light on what type of access to sensitive evidence Dookhan had over her nine years at the lab.
A team of up to 20 people from that office is looking into every aspect of the day-to-day function of the lab. The investigation began months ago and was initially scheduled to be complete by the end of this month, but will not be finished until September at the earliest, according to Ellen Silberman, spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office.
The office also has the task of putting 2 million pages of discovery records from the laboratory into a database that would be accessible to prosecutors and defense lawyers.