From Sun Staff and News Services
BOSTON -- Middlesex County prosecutors dismissed 4,351 criminal counts as a result of evidence tainted by a former drug lab chemist who pleaded guilty to tampering with drug evidence and falsifying tests, and intend to retry just nine cases that used evidence connected to the scandal.
The cases in Middlesex County are among about 20,000 criminal cases that were expected to be thrown out statewide Tuesday as prosecutors announced how many cases they intended to retry in the wake of the Annie Dookhan drug-lab scandal.
The state's highest court set Tuesday as the deadline for prosecutors in seven counties to produce lists indicating how many of the approximately 24,000 affected cases involving Annie Dookhan they would not, or could not, prosecute if new trials were ordered.
Worcester County was not among the seven counties covered by the order. Tim Connolly, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early, said only one case in Worcester County was impacted by the scandal, and it was dismissed in 2014.
Connolly said most of Worcester County's cases used a different lab for testing.
Dookhan pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence and was sentenced to three years in prison. She was paroled last year.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said, "Dookhan's criminal conduct had a devastating impact on the integrity of thousands of cases" as she announced her office would retry just nine cases that had used Dookhan evidence.
Ryan said the review process that led to the decision to retry just nine cases began in 2012.
"These cases were identified in close collaboration with our local police departments and are superior court cases involving serious drug offenses, where sufficient independent evidence remains available for retesting," Ryan said in a prepared statement.
Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said information regarding the nine cases that may still be retried is impounded, so she could not provide additional details regarding specific cases.
Kelly said about 3,000 defendants had faced the 4,351 counts dismissed as a result of the scandal.
"Today is a major victory for justice and fairness, and for thousands of people in the commonwealth who were unfairly convicted of drug offenses," Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said in a statement.
The ACLU estimated 20,000 cases would be thrown out Tuesday, which the group said would make it the single largest dismissal of criminal convictions in U.S. history.
The majority of those affected are already out of prison. Around 60 percent of the cases were for possession, as opposed to trafficking, according to Carl Williams, a staff attorney with the ACLU.
"It isn't that the jail doors are springing open because of this ruling," Williams said.
But many defendants were unable to get licenses, jobs, or student loans due to their criminal record, Williams said. Others have been deported because of their convictions.
"It's not like Tony Montana and Scarface... This is about human beings," Williams said. "These are people who will be able to get on with their lives now."
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, whose jurisdiction includes Boston, moved Tuesday to dismiss all but 117 of the approximately 7,500 suspect cases there. The remaining cases, he said, involve people with a history of violent crime and probation violations.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe moved for dismissal of more than 1,000 cases. Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said his office is seeking to throw out over 1,500.
Also affected were cases in Essex, Plymouth and Norfolk counties.
While it is not known exactly how many cases Dookhan falsified, her conduct cast a cloud over the many thousands she worked on. As a result, in January, Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court said prosecutors would have to show that they could retry these cases without relying on evidence handled by Dookhan.
Prosecutors said Dookhan admitted testing only a fraction of a batch of samples, then listing them all as positive for illegal drugs. Her motive, they said, was to boost her productivity and burnish her reputation.
Sun staff writers Robert Mills and Todd Feathers, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.