MASSACHUSETTS — In a maddening scandal that is rocking the state of Massachusetts, a government crime lab chemist has been caught intentionally forging signatures and tampering with evidence in as many as 40,000 cases, destroying the lives of countless innocent Americans.
Annie Dookhan worked as a chemist for the State of Massachusetts, and it turns out she had close relations with prosecutors.
These prosecutors were able to successfully convict innocent Americans because Dookhan would chemically taint the “evidence,” resulting in career boosts for the prosecutors while innocent men and women were torn from their families and locked in cells.
Prosecutors praised Dookhan’s work and depended on her to get the convictions they wanted.
Hundreds of “convicts” and defendents have already been released, and there are potentially thousands more waiting to be set free.
Dookhan used her position to forge results for nearly a decade. “I don’t think anyone ever perceived that one person was capable of causing this much chaos,” said Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey.
“You can see the entire walls full of boxes… in one of these cardboard boxes, there could be hundreds of cases … in each box,” said Morrissey.
Hundreds of defendants and “convicts” had been arguing that they were framed and claiming that the evidence used to convict them was mishandled. They were right.
In one recent case, a man was charged with “selling cocaine and heroin.” His public defender, Julieann Hernon, believes that this man was a potential victim of Dookhan’s fake evidence and ought to be released.
“[Dookhan] was mis-testing evidence, dry-labbing evidence, saying she had ‘conducted tests’ when she had not, deliberately tainting drugs,” said Hernon.
“Certainly, I think, we have to presume a taint here when Annie Dookhan was the chemist in the case,” said Hernon.
In another recent case, defense attorney William Sullivan was able to successfully reverse his client’s prior “guilt” because Dookhan was the secondary chemist involved in the conviction.
“This is a lab that was pretty much wholly and fully contaminated by Ms. Annie Dookhan,” Sullivan told the judge. “She had full access to everyone’s drugs.”
While many have been set free, they will never get the lost years of their lives back.
“The tragedy is that my client already did four years on this,” said Sullivan. “I mean, that is disturbing in itself.”
Many other innocents have lost their careers, lost their children, and lost their marriages.
Michael Morrissey, Norfolk County District Attorney, is now sifting through thousands of files to find out which should be thrown out because of Dookhan’s corruption and deceit.
In federal court, many innocents received even harsher sentences due to prior convictions based on Annie Dookhan’s fake “evidence.”
Several civil suits are getting started by those accused of crimes based on Dookhan’s tampering, accusing Dookhan of trampling on their rights to fair trials.
“I screwed up big time. I messed up. I messed up bad. It’s my fault. I don’t want the lab to get in trouble,” Dookhan was reported as saying.
Of course, Dookhan’s “screw up” — a “screw up” that she intentionally committed for nearly a decade — will never bring back the lives that have been destroyed.
In analyzing Dookhan’s career, it was found that she also routinely invented fanciful job titles for herself. Examples include “special agent of operations” and “on-call terrorism supervisor.” She would testify in court as an “expert.”
She maintained her composure year after year as innocents were bound and forced into prison cages.
The relationships she had with prosecutors are also under scrutiny. Dookhan once told a prosecutor in an email that she couldn’t use her expert testimony at a trial. The prosecutor replied, “No no no!!! I need you!!!”
Was the prosecutor intentionally depending on Dookhan’s deception to score a conviction and a career boost?
Many of the prosecutors became devoted fans of Dookhan and wanted to take her out for drinks, saying she was on their “dream team.” The Boston Globe provided an email between Dookhan and a prosecutor with whom she had a particularly friendly relationship:
“Glad we are on the same team,” he once wrote Dookhan — including one day in May 2010 when he told her he needed a marijuana sample to weigh at least 50 pounds so that he could charge the owners with drug trafficking.
“Any help would be greatly appreciated!” he wrote, punctuating each sentence with a long string of exclamation points. “Thank you!”
Two hours later, Dookhan responded: “OK . . . definitely Trafficking, over 80 lbs.” Papachristos thanked her profusely.
Boston attorney David Meier found that in Dookhan’s nine-year government position, over 40,ooo people may have had their cases tainted by Dookhan.
But the devastation done to families is impossible to calculate.
Dookhan is now facing charges of her own. If she is convicted she will receive a relatively light sentence of three to five years, which has outraged citizens even more.
Dookhan has plead guilty to all the counts brought against her. As expected, she was given a three to five year sentence.
“Sadly, the saga continues for the thousands of individuals who have borne the impact of Dookhan’s misdeeds, and the lab’s scandalous management,’’ says Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of the state public defender agency.
Dookhan showed no emotion as the impact of her actions was described in court, according to a report.
So far, more than 600 people have had their convictions deleted or set aside. More than 300 people have been released from captivity, with potentially thousands more still waiting to be set free.
Many citizens question how Dookhan was able to do this for nearly a decade without being detected by anybody.
A writer to the Boston Globe asks, “Indeed, where were her supervisors and those responsible for checking and approving her work? Why were no red flags raised at the speed with which Dookhan completed tests and submitted reports?”
Martin W. Healy, general counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association is conducting an ongoing investigation into the lab.
“This is one chapter in a continuing saga,’’ Healy said. “The legal community and the general public still have a number of unanswered questions about what’s gone on here. How deep was the problem? Is it really just isolated to Dookhan or does it go beyond that?’
Dookhan is currently in protective custody at the state women’s prison in Framingham but will likely transition to the prison general population soon, according to her attorney.
UPDATE (03/07/14): Dookhan scandal was part of larger “pattern” at drug lab — over two thousand additional cases now in need of review
Ongoing investigations have revealed that what Dookhan did was part of a larger “pattern” of neglect and deficient protocols, according to a new report by the Boston Globe.
Around 2,300 new cases were found to contain incompatible evidence but made it past prosecutors and defense attorneys anyway.
That is over two thousand additional times, we are told, that “neglect” happened at the lab.
A more rational explanation is that it was premeditated and intentional as part of a scheme to make money locking up innocent people.
“The report found what we have been saying all along: The entire lab was a problem,” said Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of the public defender agency.
In all, there were at least 46,000 cases that Dookhan handled, according to the Boston Globe.
She was convicted for tampering with evidence by manipulating substances and falsely declaring their status, along with lying about her “chemistry” credentials.