Just minutes after Suffolk County prosecutors rested their case, a Roxbury Municipal Court judge today acquitted Shawn Drumgold of drug possession charges, ruling that an investigation by Boston police did not directly link him to crack cocaine and heroin found in the kitchen of a Roxbury crack house in January 2011.
In reaching his verdict after the jury-waived trial, Judge David Weingarten did not mention Annie Dookhan, the former state chemist who defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio tried to link to testing done in April 2011 of the drugs seized from the crack house. Dookhan’s alleged mishandling of drugs at the state lab has jeopardized thousands of drug cases, throwing the state’s justice system into turmoil.
Instead, Weingarten said authorities did not clear the legal hurdles needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that some 20 packages of substances believed to be crack cocaine and heroin that were found in the kitchen actually belonged to Drumgold.
From the bench, Weingarten described several legal criteria necessary to reach a guilty verdict in the case. He said prosecutors appeared to be “over the bar” on some, but added that they failed to clear the legal threshold on the question of “intent.”
The case had drawn attention because several of Dookhan’s former colleagues were called to testify, giving Scapicchio an opportunity to probe into the procedures at the lab and the actions, at least in one case, of the woman at the heart of a widening scandal.
Drumgold is also no stranger to high-profile cases. He won a multimillion-dollar judgment for wrongful conviction after serving 15 years in prison for a notorious 1988 murder.
“I believe I was targeted, and I am glad justice was served this case,’’ Drumgold said after being acquitted today.
During the two-day trial, Boston police officers testified that Drumgold was one of eight people found inside the apartment during the Jan. 26, 2011, raid. They also testified that he was one of three people in or near the kitchen when the drugs were found — one woman was hiding in the pantry with a bag over her head and another man was stopped as he tried to run out a back door.
When Weingarten announced that he was acquitted, Drumgold turned towards his mother and other supporters in the small courtroom and gave a sigh of relief.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office called three police officers and three state chemists to describe the investigation, arrest and subsequent testing of the drugs.
The chemists testified that Dookhan had only a minor administrative role while the sealed samples were tested and moved around the former Department of Public Health laboratory, which has now been closed, in part because State Police discovered she may have tainted 60,000 samples involving 34,000 criminal cases during her nine-year DPH career.
In a continuation of her testimony from Thursday, chemist Della Saunders said she didn’t believe that the evidence in the Drumgold case was among the 90 samples that Dookhan allegedly took out of the evidence lockup.
“I don’t believe those samples were the samples she [Dookhan] took out of the safe to analyze, I believe those samples went to Ms. Frasca,” Saunders said, referring to Daniella Frasca, another chemist, who had testified on Thursday.
Pressed by Scapicchio during cross examination, Saunders added, “I can’t be sure of anything that Ms. Dookhan said she did.’’
Outside the courthouse, Drumgold and Scapicchio insisted that his arrest was an act of harassment by officers who knew that Drumgold had won a $14 million federal jury verdict in 2009 against a former Boston detective for violating Drumgold’s civil rights when he was convicted of first-degree murder.
“When they saw Drumgold, they thought they hit gold,’’ Scapicchio told reporters. “You have to believe it’s vindictive. ... It’s retaliatory for what Mr. Drumgold did in challenging the Boston police department” in the lawsuit.
In a statement, district attorney’s spokesman Jake Wark said the arrest and prosecution of Drumgold was driven by “his proximity to a large quantity of cocaine and heroin and not, as his attorney falsely claimed, because of his past encounters with the law.’’
He added, “Weingarten’s decision was based on prosecutors’ theory of possession, and not any issues surrounding the testing of those drugs: former DPH lab employee Annie Dookhan was neither the primary nor the confirmatory chemist on the case and her role in the Drumgold matter was to sign the drug certificates as a notary public.’’
Drumgold was convicted of 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. His conviction was 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.
Wark said Suffolk prosecutors believe that Drumgold’s trial for the murder of the child was constitutionally flawed, but noted that Drumgold “was not exonerated’’ for Moore’s shooting.
Since his release from prison, Drumgold has been entangled in two other drug cases. He has admitted to facts sufficient for a finding of guilty on cocaine and heroin possession charges in West Roxbury Municipal Court Court in 2006 and Dorchester Municipal Court in 2009, prosecutors said.
Scapicchio said Drumgold 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.
John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com.