Former colleague testifies Annie Dookhan had access to state lab, drug database
Annie Dookhan, the chemist at the center of the state drug lab controversy, had the codes to access the lab’s computer system and could open the lab in the morning, one of Dookhan’s former colleagues testified today.
Daniella Frasca, whose workstation was right next to Dookhan’s for eight years, was testifying in the Roxbury Municipal Court trial of Shawn Drumgold. Drumgold’s attorney is trying to discredit the drug evidence against her client by probing into the lab’s workings and suggesting Dookhan’s actions there tainted the evidence.
Dookhan’s alleged mishandling of evidence at the lab has already thrown the state’s criminal justice system into turmoil. Officials say thousands of drug cases have been jeopardized by her actions.
Frasca was one of two former colleagues of Dookhan from the now-closed state lab to testify today.
Neither provided direct evidence that Dookhan had mishandled evidence. But under cross-examination, defense attorney Rosemary Curran Scapicchio raised questions about overall security at the lab.
It was the first time any of Dookhan’s former co-workers have testified — and the first time they have publicly described the inner workings of the lab. As many as five of Dookhan’s former co-workers are expected to testify. Dookhan herself has taken the Fifth Amendment and declined to testify in the case.
Drumgold is no stranger to high-profile cases. He was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1988 slaying of 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore, who was shot while sitting on a mailbox on a Roxbury street. He has denied any involvement in the murder. Drumgold served 15 years behind bars, but had his conviction overturned when The Boston Globe and Scapicchio raised questions about the investigation and the failure of police to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence about a key eyewitness in the case.
Drumgold won a multimillion-dollar wrongful conviction lawsuit. But Scapicchio said he has not yet been paid the $14 million judgment because the city of Boston has appealed the verdict to the First US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now he is being tried again before Judge David Weingarten on charges of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of heroin, second offense. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
State Police have said Dookhan handled 60,000 samples involving 34,000 criminal cases during her nine-year career at the closed Department of Public Health lab. Dookhan has pleaded not guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of falsifying her academic records. She is free on $10,000 cash bail.
Also today, the American Civil Liberties Union and Families Against Mandatory Minimums called on prosecutors and the defense bar to dramatically change the way they are responding to the drug lab scandal, which the ACLU projected may cost up to $100 million to address.
In a seven-page letter sent to Attorney General Martha Coakley and all district attorneys, the groups called for the wholesale dismissal of thousands of minor drug cases, and the dismissal of major drug prosecutions where the defendant has served at least half of the prison sentence.
The Globe reported last week that the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association was going to ask the Patrick administration for at least $10 million a year, possibly for the next five years, to deal with the increased workload caused by the scandal. In its statement, the ACLU said the defense bar, through the Committee on Public Counsel Services, will seek a similar amount, forcing taxpayers to pay $100 million.
“Abundant evidence shows that prosecuting drug cases takes a terrible human and financial toll even in cases that do not involve tainted evidence,” Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU in Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Accordingly, it makes no sense to re-prosecute tens of thousands of cases that do involve tainted evidence...it is not time for an expensive, misguided and ill-fated do-over.”John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com.