BOSTON (AP) — The chemist at the center of a Massachusetts drug-testing lab scandal refused to testify Wednesday in a drug case against a Boston man who once spent 15 years in prison for the slaying of a 12-year-old girl he says he did not commit.
A lawyer for Shawn Drumgold asked a judge to dismiss two drug charges against her client because chemist Annie Dookhan's initials appear on drug powder analysis forms in the case. The judge refused, and Drumgold's drug trial began Wednesday afternoon.
More than two dozen defendants have been released on bail or had their sentences put on hold since details of Dookhan's alleged mishandling of drug samples was made public, but Drumgold's case is believed to be the first one to reach trial since the drug lab was shut down in August.
Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly skirting protocols and faking test results at the lab.
She appeared in court but did not take the stand and exercised her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
"It would be wrong for anyone to read into Mrs. Dookhan's decision to assert her Fifth Amendment privilege as any admission of criminal culpability," her lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, said later. "She made that decision based on my advice, not only because she has pending criminal charges but also because of the indication by the attorney general's office that more charges might be forthcoming."
Thomas Costello, the prosecutor in Drumgold's case, said although Dookhan's initials appear on the analysis forms and on a drug certificate, she was simply the notary. The drug testing of the suspected cocaine and heroin was done by two other chemists, Costello said.
The drug case is separate from Drumgold's overturned conviction in the 1988 killing of 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore, who was hit by stray bullets from gang crossfire while sitting on a mailbox in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. A judge in 2003 freed Drumgold after a key witness recanted his testimony. Drumgold, now 47, always maintained his innocence.
A federal jury awarded Drumgold $14 million in 2009 in a civil rights lawsuit he filed against police in the case.
When Drumgold was arrested on drug possession with intent to distribute charges in 2011, he was the only one of 14 people in a Boston apartment arrested that day, his lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, said Wednesday. He denied the drugs were his and Scapicchio repeatedly accused Boston police of charging him only to retaliate against him because of his legal victory against the department.
Drumgold's trial began with prosecutors questioning one of the police officers who helped execute a search warrant at the apartment. Testimony is expected to resume Thursday. Up to five chemists who worked at the lab with Dookhan and may have had some role in testing evidence in Drumgold's case may take the stand.
"They can't prove the drugs were actually drugs, and that they weren't tainted by the drug lab scandal," Scapicchio said outside court.
Scapicchio said prosecutors hadn't provided her with sufficient drug testing evidence in the case. Costello said they have been unable to fulfill her request for some documents because the closed lab is a "crime scene" and the paperwork is in the custody of the state attorney general's office as it investigates the testing scandal.
State police, who took over operation of the lab from the Department of Public Health, have said Dookhan tested more than 60,000 samples covering 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab. State officials said last week that they have identified more than 1,100 defendants who are serving time in county jails or state prisons based on samples tested by Dookhan.
Dookhan has pleaded not guilty and is free on $10,000 bail.