Epic Massachusetts crime lab scandal may involve even broader wrongdoing, judge says

Epic Massachusetts crime lab scandal could contain even broader wrongdoing, decide says

A decade-old scandal at a Massachusetts crime lab — which led authorities to dismiss tens of hundreds of drug convictions — could contain wrongdoing by extra folks than was beforehand recognized, in accordance with a current courtroom order. 

A state Superior Courtroom decide stated in a ruling associated to the discharge of a trove of state investigative supplies that there’s proof that different staff on the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute — past disgraced former chemist Annie Dookhan — could have engaged in misconduct. Not less than one individual was referred to the state lawyer common’s workplace in 2015 for potential prosecution, Decide John T. Lu wrote final week. 

The ruling stokes lingering doubts about statements by the state inspector common’s workplace over the previous eight years that Dookhan was the “sole dangerous actor” on the Hinton lab. And it means the huge scandal might develop. 

“It is a vital growth. It justifiably raises questions in regards to the prison convictions that the lab helped to provide with or with out Annie Dookhan’s involvement,” stated Matthew Segal, the authorized director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who has led the combat by protection attorneys to unearth the huge misconduct at a pair of government-run Massachusetts labs that prompted the state’s highest courtroom to dismiss 61,000 drug costs. 

Annie Dookhan
Annie Dookhan, heart, is escorted out of her house by authorities in Franklin, Mass., on Sept. 28, 2012.Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP

Dookhan’s misconduct on the Hinton lab was uncovered in 2012, after she had labored there for almost a decade. She admitted to tampering with proof, forging take a look at outcomes and mendacity about it, in accordance with courtroom data. She served three years in jail and was launched in 2016. Most people she helped convict of low-level drug offenses pleaded responsible and completed their sentences lengthy earlier than she was prosecuted, in accordance with protection attorneys. Greater than 21,000 instances she labored on have been dismissed.

Lu’s ruling Sept. 16 is related to instances in Middlesex County wherein defendants are difficult drug convictions based mostly on proof that protection attorneys say was processed on the Hinton lab — not by Dookhan, however by different chemists, together with Sonja Farak. 

Farak labored on the Hinton lab from 2002 to August 2004 earlier than she moved to a state lab in Amherst, the place she fed a drug habit by utilizing samples she was imagined to be analyzing in prison instances, in accordance with courtroom data. She pleaded responsible in 2014 to tampering with proof and drug theft costs and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Greater than 16,000 instances she labored on have been dismissed.

Farak has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection together with her work at Hinton.

Farak and Dookhan couldn’t instantly be reached for remark.     

The Middlesex County defendants are difficult their convictions, saying the state did not particularly examine Farak and different chemists whereas they labored at Hinton. 

“We’ve to unravel what occurred at Hinton,” stated James P. McKenna, who represents two of the Middlesex defendants convicted with proof examined by chemists aside from Dookhan.

Former Massachusetts Inspector Common Glenn A. Cunha, who retired this yr, stated in 2019 that his workplace by no means particularly investigated Farak’s work at Hinton. Cunha declined to touch upon pending litigation. 

Dookhan’s and Farak’s misconduct and the fallout have been a persisting embarrassment for the state, they usually have upended its prison justice system. The state public defender’s workplace estimated final yr that as many as 250,000 convictions resulted from lab work on the now-closed Hinton lab when Dookhan, Farak and different chemists labored there. 

1000’s of wrongly convicted folks went to jail or jail or misplaced their jobs, houses and parental rights, in accordance with protection attorneys. 

In June, the state agreed to pay as a lot as $14 million to settle a class-action lawsuit to reimburse greater than 30,000 wrongfully convicted defendants for the fines and charges they paid the state in prosecutions based mostly on problematic crime lab exams. The state has additionally spent greater than $30 million for different prices related to investigating and addressing the hurt of the scandal. 

Lu’s ruling final week, which ordered that the defendants be given entry to state paperwork wherein the names of individuals talked about within the Hinton investigation usually are not redacted, makes it clear that the inspector common’s issues in regards to the Hinton drug lab went past Dookhan. The ruling says that “it has develop into evident that the OIG made and/or thought of a number of prison referrals to the Legal professional Common for different individuals on the Hinton Drug Lab.” 

In June 2015, the inspector common’s workplace referred one matter to the lawyer common’s workplace for attainable prosecution “based mostly on take a look at outcomes from an impartial out-of-state laboratory, which had been inconsistent with the Hinton Drug Lab outcomes, suggesting that prison acts could have been dedicated by one other individual on the Hinton Lab,” Lu wrote.

“Additionally, there have been different situations the place different individuals on the lab knew or ought to have recognized that sure substances weren’t thought of managed substances underneath Massachusetts regulation however triggered certificates of study to be issued stating that the substances had been unlawful, leading to defendants being wrongfully convicted,” he wrote.  

Lu didn’t disclose the identities of these folks in his ruling, and quite a few data stay underneath seal. Lu’s order barred all events to the instances from sharing particulars of the newly unredacted state investigation paperwork.  

In 2014, the inspector common stated in a report that Dookhan was the “sole dangerous actor” on the Hinton crime lab, and the inspector common’s workplace has restated that quite a few occasions since then, whilst protection attorneys and judges have raised questions in regards to the scope of the inspector common’s $6 million investigation.   

A spokesperson for state Legal professional Common Maura Healey, the Democratic nominee for governor, declined to remark when she was requested what motion — if any — the lawyer common’s workplace took as soon as it acquired the 2015 referral.   

A spokesman for the inspector common’s workplace declined to remark, citing ongoing litigation. 

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