Judge refuses to drop drug charges against Shawn Drumgold; Annie Dookhan takes Fifth
A Roxbury Municipal Court judge today refused to dismiss drug charges against Shawn Drumgold, saying that Suffolk County prosecutors should have more time to determine whether former state chemist Annie Dookhan was involved in testing the evidence in the case.
But Judge David Weingarten said he was only going to give prosecutors a short period of time to determine Dookhan’s role, if any, in the case.
Drumgold is no stranger to the spotlight. He spent 15 years in prison for the notorious 1988 slaying of a 12-year-old girl, but later won a multimillion-dollar wrongful conviction lawsuit against the state. He now faces charges in a 2011 drug case in which heroin and cocaine were seized.
Dookhan, the mystery woman at the center of the state drug lab scandal, allegedly mishandled evidence, potentially compromising thousands of cases. She appeared briefly in court today and, through her attorney, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She then left the courthouse.
Drumgold’s attorney, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, who is seeking Drumgold’s release, wanted Dookhan to explain why her initials appear on lab notes from three tests done in the Drumgold case.
Scapicchio also wanted to question five other chemists who were working at the now-closed Jamaica Plain drug lab in April 2011 when the Drumgold drug evidence was submitted for testing by Boston police. While the five are on hand, they so far have not been called as witnesses.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said Dookhan had no role in testing the drugs and called Scapicchio’s allegations baseless.
The five chemists’ attorney, James McDonagh, said it was the first time they had been subpoenaed as witnesses since the drug lab scandal broke earlier this year.
McDonagh said all the five of the chemists, who are members of the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists union, were willing and ready to testify.
He said there have been no allegations of misdeeds against his clients and there would be no reason for them not to answer questions.
He said that there may be a “perception” that his clients did not do their jobs properly, but no one has made a formal accusation against them.
“There may be a perception. But there is no misperformance of malfeasance with these people at all,” McDonagh said.
He added that the problem at the Jamaica Plain lab was limited to Dookhan.
“This is a one-situation, one-person” problem, he said.
He added that his five clients are currently on administrative leave with pay but they are anxious to get back to their jobs.
“They are waiting to go back to work. That’s all they are waiting to do. They want to go back,” he said.
Late this afternoon, Scapicchio, in what appeared to be legal gamesmanship, shifted gears, asking that the pretrial hearing on the drug evidence transition to the previously scheduled bench trial. The judge agreed and the trial began, but it wasn’t clear if witnesses such as the five chemists had remained in the courthouse.
Dookhan faces two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly tampering with evidence in drug cases she handled at the now-closed Department of Public Health lab in Jamaica Plain. She also faces a charge of falsifying her academic records. Authorities says she tested 60,000 drug samples, involving 34,000 criminal cases, during her nine-year career.
Dookhan’s alleged mishandling of evidence has thrown thousands of drug cases into doubt and already resulted in people being released from custody. The exact motives of the Franklin woman remain unclear.
Drumgold was awarded a $14 million payout for being wrongfully convicted of murder in the slaying of Tiffany Moore. But he was one of six people arrested in 2011 in a Roxbury house where police allegedly discovered several bags of heroin and cocaine.John Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org