THREE hundred inmates have been released from US prisons because they were convicted using fake evidence.
Annie Dookhan, a former chemist for the state of Massachusetts, reportedly tainted the cases of more than 40000 people during her nine-year tenure in the job.
Ms Dookhan declared that drug samples were positive without bothering to test them, forged signatures, lied about her credentials and tampered with evidence, the New York Times reports.
This was all supposed to advance Ms Dookhan’s career and enhance her reputation as an expert witness in court.
Ms Dookhan’s superiors became suspicious of her in 2010 because she was processing drug samples three times faster than her colleagues. The rogue chemist was eventually caught forging a signature in 2011, and in August of 2012 she admitted to mishandling evidence.
Former state chemist Annie Dookhan. Photo: AP/The Boston Globe Source: AP
“I screwed up big time,” she said. “I messed up. I messed up bad. It’s my fault. I don’t want the lab to get in trouble.
Ms Dookhan later pleaded guilty to 27 counts, including perjury, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. The lab where she worked has been shut down.
Meanwhile, more than 300 prisoners have been released because their convictions were tainted. Of those inmates, at least 50 have been rearrested, including a man named Donta Hood who is now being charged with first-degree murder.
The Massachusetts legislature has set aside $30 million for prosecutors to reinvestigate the overturned cases to see if the suspects can be charged using other evidence. But the total cost could reach $100 million, the Times reports.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Pic: AP Source: AP
With this cost in mind, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley argued for a sentence of five to seven years for Ms Dookhan.
“The total costs to rectify Dookhan’s actions have climbed into the millions with no end in sight, and the financial aspect does not even address the lost of liberty of affected individuals, the significant deleterious effect on the safety of the public or the breakdown of public trust in the system,” she wrote to the court.
The judge presiding over Ms Dookhan’s case was a little more lenient, sentencing her to three to five years in jail, plus two years of probation.
Ms Dookhan “presents as a tragic and broken person who has been undone by her own ambition,” Justice Carol Ball said.
“Innocent persons were incarcerated,” she said. “Guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core.”