Monday, October 28, 2013 2:03 pm
Mass. chemist expected to change plea in lab case
By DENISE LAVOIEAP Legal Affairs Writer
Annie Dookhan, of Franklin, has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence at a former Department of Public Health lab where local police departments sent substances for testing in drug cases. Dookhan allegedly admitted to state police that she faked test results and tampered with samples at the now-closed lab.
On Monday, a court docket showed that a hearing for her to change that plea is scheduled for Nov. 22.
Earlier this month, prosecutors from state Attorney General Martha Coakley's office recommended up to seven years in prison for Dookhan if she decides to plead guilty. Dookhan's lawyer asked for no more than a year, arguing that she had made a series of tragic mistakes, but never foresaw the massive damage her actions would cause to the state's criminal justice system.
Last week, Judge Carol Ball said she will not impose a sentence of more than three to five years if Dookhan decides to change her plea to guilty.
In addition to a change-of-plea hearing on Nov. 22, the electronic court docket also showed that a hearing on Dookhan's motion to suppress her statements to state police has been canceled. It had been scheduled for Wednesday.
Dookhan's lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, did not immediately return telephone and email messages.
"It is the defendant's decision whether or not to plead guilty and the judge's decision to determine the sentence," said Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Coakley.
"Our office has not agreed to any plea deal and we are prepared to go to trial and prove our case before a jury. The defendant has indicated to the court that she will likely change her plea to guilty."
The lab was shut down in August 2012 after state police discovered the extent of Dookhan's alleged misconduct. Since then, at least 1,100 criminal cases have been dismissed or not prosecuted because of tainted evidence or other fallout from the lab's closing.
In a sentencing memo filed in court earlier this month, prosecutors said Dookhan has caused "egregious damage" to the criminal justice system. They said Dookhan skipped vital steps in the drug-testing process to "improve her productivity and burnish her reputation."
Dookhan's lawyer argued for a one-year sentence during an Oct. 18 hearing, saying Dookhan's only motivation was to be "the hardest-working and most prolific and most productive chemist."
"This is not a woman who ever set out to hurt anyone," Gordon said.