BROCKTON — Donta Hood had at least two years remaining on his prison term when he found unexpected freedom: His conviction was tossed out last fall after it was discovered that disgraced state chemist Annie Dookhan had handled the evidence and testified at his trial.
But prosecutors say the 22-year-old Brockton man soon returned to a life of crime, falling into a dispute about drugs and guns Tuesday afternoon that ended when he allegedly shot a 45-year-old man in the chest several times, killing him.
Hood was arraigned Friday in Brockton District Court, where attorney Lefteris Travayiakis pleaded not guilty on his behalf in the slaying of Charles Evans on Belmont Street in one of six homicides in the city so far this year.
Brockton District Court Judge Ronald Moynahan ordered Hood held without bail on the murder charge and three firearms charges, pending a preliminary hearing June 14. Hood also has a pending firearms possession case out of Wareham.
The case is the first homicide allegedly committed by an offender freed as a result of the Dookhan scandal.
During the arraignment, Plymouth Assistant District Attorney Timothy R. Kenny disclosed the link between Hood and Dookhan, who worked for a now closed Department of Public Health Laboratory in Jamaica Plain, where she allegedly mixed drug samples, falsified results, and perjured herself on the witness stand by claiming to have a master’s degree when she did not.
Hood was convicted on Aug. 14, 2009 in Brockton Superior Court of cocaine distribution, based on testimony during the trial by Dookhan, who had tested the evidence. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
But attorneys for Hood petitioned the court for a new trial last September, after the scandal involving Dookhan broke. By November, the charges against Hood were dropped, and he was released, roughly three years into his sentence.
The evidence in the case had been destroyed, so retesting was impossible.
Michael O’Keefe, the top prosecutor on the Cape and Islands and president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said the Brockton killing is “terribly unfortunate” but that such a crime was not unexpected.
“Frankly, I’m surprised that it hasn’t occurred sooner,” O’Keefe said.
Prosecutors across the state have been working to balance concerns about the integrity of the justice system with their public safety mission, he said.
Speaking in general about the lab scandal, O’Keefe said when a drug case tied to Dookhan includes convictions for other offenses besides narcotics, prosecutors are trying to keep inmates behind bars.
“In the main, these people are significant criminals, and the public deserves to be protected from them,” he said.
The Committee for Public Counsel Services and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts have asked the state’s highest court to consider dismissing hundreds of thousands of drug convictions if there is any connection to Dookhan or the lab.
Anthony Benedetti, the committee’s chief counsel, called the Brockton slaying tragic but said he saw no other way to handle Hood’s prior drug case.
“It appears from the facts that this was a case in which Annie Dookhan was directly involved,” he said Friday. “She testified, and the defendant was granted a new trial, and the prosecution was unable to go forward because they didn’t have any evidence. . . . We don’t hold people based on what we think they might do in the future.”
He added that the murder charge Hood now faces “shouldn’t affect how judges handle the ongoing litigation” surrounding the Hinton lab.
Matthew R. Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, also deemed the Brockton case a tragedy.
“But, according to press accounts, even the prosecution agreed that Dookhan’s misconduct made it impossible to save this man’s drug conviction,” Segal said in a statement. “And the vast majority of these cases involve people who are not murderers and who have already served most or all of their sentences. . . . Given the evidence that the drug war does not reduce crime, it’s hard to understand why the taxpayers are being asked to spend so much money relitigating cases.”
Separately, the SJC said in a ruling Friday that a Superior Court judge does have authority to stay the sentences of so-called Dookhan defendants while motions for new trials are pending. However, the SJC ruled, special magistrates who were appointed in several counties to address Dookhan-related cases do not have that authority and can only “make proposed findings of fact and rulings of law” on the motions.
In the Brockton courtroom Friday, Kenny detailed the events leading up to the homicide allegedly committed by Hood, relying on statements from witnesses.
Shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday, a car pulled up to 227 Belmont St. and a group of men, which included Hood, got out. Kenny said Hood told authorities that he went there to work out a gun and drug deal.
After a brief discussion about where to conduct the transaction, Evans and Hood, each accompanied by an associate, decided to go inside the house. There a struggle broke out between Hood and Evans, according to a witness.
“Don’t you dare, don’t even think about it,” Hood allegedly uttered to Evans before shooting him in the chest several times. It was unclear what he was referring to.
Evans staggered down the stairs and collapsed on a driveway behind the house. He was rushed to Brockton Hospital, where he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later.
Hood told authorities that he thought Evans was attempting to rob him, Kenny said.
Several children playing in the area of 227 Belmont found a discarded black jacket covering two handguns in a yard, Kenny said.
Ballistics testing is being done on the weapons, he said, and the ammunition found inside one of those firearms matches ballistics evidence from the homicide.
Police also found fingerprints on one of the guns and are searching for a man they believe may have aided Hood, he said.
In the courtroom, Hood sat behind a wooden partition, but repeatedly peered around it, apparently looking for someone in the crowd.
Relatives and friends of Evans attended the arraignment but declined to comment afterward. It was unclear whether any friends or family of Hood’s were in the courtroom.