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Convict’s prison time slashed due to lab scandal

No longer seen as career offender

CONCORD, N.H. — A Massachusetts crime lab scandal rippled Tuesday through a New Hampshire federal courtroom, where a convicted drug dealer who originally faced up to 20 years in prison caught a big break — a three-year sentence — after a Massachusetts drug conviction was tossed out two months ago.

Comilus Pope, 40, pleaded guilty a year ago to four counts of selling heroin and cocaine in Manchester. Because that was his third conviction for drug dealing, he faced the much higher sentence as a career offender. His previous convictions were in Lowell, Mass., and Nashua.

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Pope’s 2007 Massachusetts conviction was thrown out in June because his case was among the up to 40,000 cases that authorities say were tainted by former drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan, who is facing multiple felony counts for allegedly falsifying and forging drug test results.

‘‘This defendant has benefited due to corruption by an official in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,’’ US District Judge Joseph Laplante said in sentencing Pope.

Sentencing guidelines called for a one-year sentence, but Assistant US Attorney Terry Ollila argued for three years, citing more than 30 arrests dating back to when Pope was 15.

‘‘At 15, he started on a life of crime and it hasn’t abated in any way,’’ Ollila said.

Pope’s lawyer, Michael Shklar, argued for time served — about 18 months — citing Pope’s completion of a rigorous drug treatment program at the Strafford County House of Corrections and his continued participation in the program as a mentor. He noted that Pope has served more time on these charges before sentencing than he has on any of his past convictions.

Pope told Laplante he has also completed two anger management courses, saying, ‘‘I’m just not that person anymore.’’

‘‘I don’t want to spend my life in jail doing 15 or 20 years,’’ Pope said.

With two drug convictions, Pope would be facing career offender status again if he is convicted of another drug charge. Although Pope still faces a new trial in Massachusetts in the case that was vacated, Shklar said the odds of that case being pursued are nil.

‘‘Anything that has been touched by Ms. Dookhan is completely compromised,’’ Shklar said of the evidence in that case.

Laplante noted that Massachusetts wasn’t the only place where Pope’s punishments for his multiple probation and parole violations fell through the cracks. He said a 3½- to 7-year suspended sentence in New Hampshire in 2008 should have been imposed when Pope violated parole but wasn’t.

Laplante told Pope he had intended to sentence him to four years, but he reduced that in light of his completion of drug treatment and other attributes raised during the hearing.

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