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Date published: 9/28/2012
BOSTON--Chemist Annie Dookhan was "Superwoman," a colleague at a Massachusetts state crime lab used to joke. She seemed unstoppable in her quest to please prosecutors, police and her bosses, testing two to three times more drug samples than anyone else, working through lunch and not bothering to put in for overtime.
"The kind of person, if you owned your own business, you would want to hire her," a supervisor would later tell police.
Beginning about four years ago, suspicions arose about the way she seemed to plow through so many cases so fast. After that, a supervisor complained he never actually saw her in front of a microscope. But her superiors let her work on.
Now, the startling explanation has come spilling out: Dookhan told investigators she faked test results on drug samples and cut other corners.
The scandal has created a legal morass of monumental proportions, with tens of thousands of drug cases in Massachusetts thrown into jeopardy.
Dookhan, 34, is still under investigation by the state attorney general and has not been charged, and investigators have offered no motive for the fakery. She has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
The fallout could be huge.
Gov. Deval Patrick ordered a shutdown last month of the Boston lab, and the scandal has led to a firing and two resignations, including that of the state public health commissioner, whose department oversaw the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute before it was transferred to the Massachusetts State Police over the summer.
A war room of sorts is being assembled to pick through Dookhan's cases and determine which ones have been compromised.
Law enforcement officials say Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants in her nine years at the lab. More than a dozen defendants are already back on the streets as authorities try to determine whether Dookhan's actions tainted the evidence in their cases, and more could be sprung. Authorities say more than 1,100 inmates are doing time based at least in part on Dookhan's work.
"It's incalculable the damage she's done not to say all the time, money and energy it's going to take the commonwealth," said defense attorney Bernie Grossberg, who has already had one client get out of prison and is being inundated with calls from others.
It remains to be seen if any lab supervisors face criminal consequences.
The governor said Thursday it was troubling that Dookhan and her supervisors "did not seem to understand the gravity" of her actions.
"I fully expect, and indeed I will say I hope that there are charges, and I think that all of those who are accountable for the impact on individual cases need to be held accountable," Patrick said.