BOSTON More defendants are challenging their convictions this week based on a testing scandal at a Massachusetts drug lab, including a man under indictment for murder and another man who served time behind bars for killing a neighborhood cat and burning its remains.
A Suffolk Superior Court judge is hearing requests for sentences to be put on hold and to set bail for defendants serving prison sentences in cases in which chemist Annie Dookhan tested suspected drugs.
Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, is accused of skirting protocols and faking drug test results at the now-closed state lab. She has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice charges.
Anthony Thames, 29, is charged with murder in the shooting death of Raymond Lamar, 33, in Boston’s South End neighborhood in August 2011. Shortly after his arrest, he pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing cocaine and is serving a five-year sentence.
Thames appeared in court Monday via videoconference from the state prison in Shirley to ask a judge to put his drug sentence on hold. Because he is being held without bail on the murder charge, Judge Christine McEvoy took no action on his motion, said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley.
Luigi Epifania, 29, of East Boston, who is serving five years on a 2011 drug conviction for possession with intent to distribute Oxycontin and distribution of heroin, also appeared via videoconference Monday. McEvoy did not put his sentence on hold, but asked his attorney to get more details on his probation violation in two earlier cases to determine whether he should continue to be held, Wark said. Another hearing is scheduled for next month.
Prosecutors said Epifania was convicted in 2007 for beating a man with a frying pan during a separate drug deal and for killing a cat, setting it on fire and throwing it through a window.
Last week, McEvoy heard more than 100 cases of defendants convicted of possessing, distributing or trafficking in drugs tested by Dookhan. She allowed requests to place sentences on hold in most cases, set bail and ordered defendants who posted bail to be monitored by GPS and curfews.
Wark said prosecutors are concerned because many of the defendants being released on bail have previous records.
“Many of these defendants are serving time for their most recent drug offense, but for almost every single one, that follows many previous drug offenses, as well as gun offenses, violent crime and high-level drug distribution,” Wark said.
“Which isn’t to say that it’s appropriate to keep them locked up if the evidence doesn’t support the conviction. That’s why we’re assenting to many of these stays of sentences, but we can’t forget who these defendants are or the public safety threat they impose when they are returned to the streets.”
Defense lawyers, however, say prosecutors are attempting to scare the public into thinking that the special court sessions are resulting in many dangerous criminals being put back out on the street.
“The idea that a judge is going to release somebody because of a suspect drug case who is also being held on a murder charge is laughable,” said Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency. “The fundamental issue is, if you’re serving time on a drug case and that case is now suspect because of this drug lab issue, that’s the only issue.”