Official: 1,150 Convictions Could Be In Question In Lab Scandal

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More than 1,100 convictions could be in question because of tainted evidence at the now-closed state drug lab, David Meier, a Patrick administration appointee, said Monday.

Meier's comments, on his first full day overseeing efforts to determine the extent of damage from the lab scandal, came on the same day a judge suspended the sentence of a Roxbury man whose case involved drugs handled by the state chemist at the heart of the problems.

'He Thought The Heavens Opened'

You're David Huffman, and you've just started a seven- to 10-year prison sentence. And Assistant District Attorney Joseph Janezic said you deserved all of it and more.

"Mr. Huffman, by virtue of his nearly 17-page record, qualified as an armed career criminal," Janezic said.

You're David Huffman, and they hooked you on trafficking heroin and cocaine — 300 grams of it. And then there was the gun in your house and the ammunition. You're facing a 20-year minimum mandatory. So you pleaded guilty last month and got a deal. Then three weeks after you enter the slammer, your attorney, Bernard Grossberg, tells you you hit the jackpot.

"In Mr. Huffman's case there are 14 reports that were authored or confirmed by the state chemist who is in question," Grossberg said.

You're David Huffman. So how do you feel when you find out all the drug evidence against you was analyzed by none other than the now-notorious chemist, Annie Dookhan?

"He was, ah, he thought the heavens opened, quite frankly," Grossberg said.

So Huffman and Grossberg came before their trial judge in Suffolk Superior Court Monday to ask her to stay Huffman's sentence, to suspend it "until such time as full disclosure is made regarding the improprieties at the state lab," Grossberg said.

But what did the gun and the ammunition have to do with the scandal at the drug lab, the prosecutor asked.

"The firearm is an act of independent criminality," Janezic said. "It is an act admitted to by Mr. Huffman in this court."

Later, his boss, District Attorney Dan Conley, sounded angry. He said the defendants who "stand to benefit the most ... are violent offenders, career criminals and gun offenders or major narcotics suppliers ... and [Huffman] is all four."

Meier's Comments

Meanwhile, it was time for the day's other David to come into the story — David Meier, special counsel to the governor's office.

On his first day on the job to sort out who has potentially been affected by the drug lab and where they might be found, Meier met with prosecutors and a representative of public defenders. He said there has been significant progress going through 34,000 criminal cases "whose drug samples potentially may have been affected by the chemist."

"Of those 34,000," he said, "we have been able to identify approximately 1,150 of those individuals who are presently serving a sentence [in state prisons or county jails]."

Meier said the next priority is to identify those who are incarcerated in federal prison, as well as those awaiting trial and those on bail.

"The overriding priority, I think we all agree, is people serving a sentence," Meier said.

A Suspended Sentence

Back in the courtroom with the other David, the prosecution was arguing that Huffman should stay behind bars on account of his plea to gun charges, as well as the drug charges.

But Grossberg argued that "Mr. Huffman would not have plead to a seven- to 10-year sentence on the gun charge if it was not for the drug charge," he said. "It was a way of resolving all the charges."

And since a guilty plea has to be intelligently and knowingly made, it can't be when the evidence may be tainted. The prosecutor said the drugs and the gun were separate issues. The judge disagreed and suspended the sentence.

Once Huffman makes $75,000 cash bail and gets fitted with a GPS monitor, he will be freed from prison. If not for good, it'll be at least temporary, until Meier and the attorney general and the so-called war room resolve the matter of what Dookhan and that lab did and to whom.

This program aired on September 25, 2012.

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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