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Annie Dookhan And The Massachusetts Drug Lab Crisis

Ex-Mass. Chemist Arraigned In Drug Lab Case

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BOSTON — Annie Dookhan, the former Massachusetts chemist accused of faking test results at a state drug lab, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to five counts of obstruction of justice — at two separate arraignments.

Deborah Becker joined All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer to discuss the news.

Sacha Pfeiffer: Let’s start with Dookhan’s court appearances. What happened?

Deborah Becker: Dookhan appeared at the second and third of what are six scheduled arraignments on charges that she lied under oath while testifying in drug cases — saying that she had a master’s degree in chemistry, when she did not. Wednesday’s charges were in Middlesex and Norfolk counties, two of the counties where she allegedly inflated her credentials. She’ll appear in the other counties where she allegedly testified that as well.

Was Dookhan released?

She remains released on $10,000 cash bail and must wear a GPS monitoring device and adhere to a curfew.

What was her demeanor like in court?

Dookhan did not comment at all except to say “not guilty” when asked about her plea, and she said it very softly. She was dressed in a gray suit, kept her eyes downcast through much of the proceedings, and stayed close to her defense attorney. Unlike her arraignment last month, her husband was not with her in court Wednesday.

Which is interesting because new documents suggest that a former prosecutor claims that Dookhan’s husband told him that Dookhan is a liar.

That’s right. New State Police documents detail the interview investigators did with former Norfolk Assistant District Attorney George Papachristos. He resigned after emails surfaced suggesting that he regularly communicated with Dookhan and appears to have had a personal relationship with her. In his interview with State Police, Papachristos says that Dookhan’s husband texted him two years ago and said “she is liar and she is seeking attention.” Papachristos told investigators he never had a relationship with Dookhan, but did cut off contact with her after those texts from her husband.

What else to the documents say?

These documents raise some serious questions about procedures at the drug lab. For example, the documents outline specific cases in which defendants were accused of having drugs, and Dookhan certified that the substances from police were in fact drugs. Yet, when the drugs were retested because of questions about Dookan, it was discovered that these were not controlled substances after all.

Additionally, the documents show that Dookhan continued to have access to a safe that held drug evidence months after she had violated lab protocol by removing samples from the safe.

What happens next?

Court appearance after court appearance. Dookhan’s laywer would not comment on whether he might seek to consolidate these cases so there are not pretrial conferences and hearings in six different jurisdictions. But as it stands now, that is how the legal case against her is unfolding.

The state is still reviewing the cases and it really is amazing to observe this unprecedented activity. No one really knows how to handle this and it’s all very complicated. There are special court sessions which have heard many of the cases of those who are incarcerated based on evidence tested by Dookhan.

The second wave of cases will be people who have been affected in other ways by testing done by Dookan — maybe denied a job or housing or child custody. There are tens of thousands of cases and the governor has appointed people to review the cases and the courts have brought in retired judges to handle some of these special sessions.

In these special sessions, how many people have been released?

At last count 159 people have been released on bail because of testing done by Dookhan.

One of those people was rearrested Tuesday night. Suffolk County prosecutors say 26-year-old Jonathan Vaughan was drinking beer in a McDonalds and refused to leave. When police escorted him out, he allegedly said, “I just got out on Annie Dookhan and I”m not going back to jail.” Police say he then began thrashing violently and they searched his belongings, finding eight packages of what’s believed to be crack cocaine.

Vaughan was released last month because the drugs in his case were tested by Dookhan. At his arraignment Wednesday he was held on $25,000 cash bail.

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