BOSTON -- A drug defendant serving time in jail was allowed Wednesday to withdraw his guilty plea in the wake of a scandal at a drug-testing lab. It's the first of what could potentially be many convictions jeopardized after police say they discovered a chemist failed to follow testing protocols.
David Danielli was originally charged with trafficking oxycodone pills, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in June after Department of Public Health officials told Norfolk County prosecutors that drug samples in his case might be called into question. Danielli was sentenced to serve a year in the Norfolk County House of Correction.
Chemist Annie Dookhan is suspected of tampering with evidence, altering the weights of drug samples and purposely mishandling samples. The investigation prompted the shutdown of the lab last month. She resigned from the lab in March and hasn't been criminally charged, though the attorney general's office is conducting a criminal investigation.
Dookhan hasn't responded to repeated requests for comment.
After state police took over operation of the lab July 1, they said they discovered that the scope of the chemist's violations was much greater than originally believed. Danielli's lawyer then filed a motion for him to withdraw his guilty plea, which was granted Wednesday by a judge.
Speaking to reporters outside court after Wednesday's hearing, Danielli's attorney John Martin said, "Everyone who's been convicted of a crime in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and possibly other counties in the last five to six years is possibly the victim of a very substantial miscarriage of justice."
Prosecutors supported his motion to withdraw his plea because of the questions raised in a widening investigation into the chemist's actions.
"The Constitution demanded that we join defense counsel in seeking this defendant's release while we reassess and re-examine the evidence and the case against him," Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said. "We will work with defense counsel on this case and on other cases as long as it takes to fulfill the protections of the United States Constitution."
The investigation has prompted the firing of one administrator and the resignations of two others, including DPH Commissioner John Auerbach.
Auerbach blamed the mishandling of evidence on a single "rogue chemist," but he also faulted her supervisors for failing to recognize the magnitude of the problem.
Auerbach said Wednesday that he should accept responsibility for management failures as the agency's leader, but he said he isn't responsible for the actions of one "rogue chemist."
State officials have said Dookhan handled more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants over about nine years at the lab.
Dookhan was disciplined after failing to properly sign out 90 drug samples from the evidence room at the lab in June 2011, but Auerbach said managers believed it was an isolated incident and didn't notify higher-ups.
Auerbach said Wednesday that he did not believe lab supervisors engaged in a cover-up.
"Our focus has been on how it was possible that such activities occurred and could have gone undetected," he said. "And we've determined that there were deficiencies in the management of the (lab), and errors in judgment when a single incident of wrongdoing was identified in June of 2011."
Supervisors missed warning signs, Auerbach said, including the unusually high volume of samples tested by Dookhan.
While the agency had, like most others in state government, absorbed its share of budget cuts during the past five years, "reductions of budgets should never be an excuse for the lack of proper oversight and quality control management in critical operations like the forensic drug laboratory," Auerbach said.
He said he felt "complete anger" that the actions of one person could cause so much harm and over the possibility that justice was not served in some criminal cases.
"I am furious at that," he said.
Bad Process Server
According to Mitch Zarskey, of Piney Point Village, Texas, his surveillance cameras captured a process server urinating in his driveway on Sept. 29, 2013. <strong>Watch the video here:</strong> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/03/mitch-zarskey-process-server_n_4038044.html?1380821535" target="_blank">www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/03/mitch-zarskey-process-server_n_4038044.html</a>
Man Returns Used Enemas
Federal prosecutors say Ronald Robinson returned used enemas to a pharmacy in Jacksonville, Fla. The products were resold to customers before workers discovered they had been tampered with. Robinson could be imprisoned for 10 years if convicted.
Illicit Manatee Riding
This unidentified woman may have had a great time catching a ride on the back of a manatee in Florida, but, unfortunately, it's a misdemeanor in violation of the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/manatee-riding-woman-photo-crime_n_1933672.html?utm_hp_ref=weird-news" target="_hplink">Read the whole story here.</a>
Alleged Violent Naked Pooping Masturbator
Gregory Matthew Bruni, 21, is accused of getting naked and climbing onto a couple's roof, then assaulting one of the homeowners before pooping and masturbating inside the house. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/23/gregory-matthew-bruni-naked-poop-masturbate-florida_n_2533967.html?utm_hp_ref=weird-news">Read the whole story here.</a>
Brandi Lynn Stuntebeck
Stuntebeck, 31, allegedly attempted to flee after crashing into the back of another car in Ohio. The driver of that car, Donald Brownlee, followed her, leading Stuntebeck to pull over. But when he leaned through her passenger window, she drove off again dragging him for nearly a mile, according to police. He eventually fell and the car ran over his ankle.
When McDonald was accused by Seattle police of flashing a woman while masturbating in a park, <a href="http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Alleged-Seattle-park-masturbator-I-was-getting-3878136.php" target="_hplink">he told authorities</a> he was just getting "some sun."
After ramming into a deputy's patrol vehicle, this 18-year-old was handcuffed and thrown into the back seat. But not for long. She allegedly managed to escape from the cuffs, get into the driver's seat, and lead authorities on a chase that lasted a half hour and reached speeds up to 100 mph before the stolen SUV went off the road and flipped over. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/25/shelby-figueroa-steals-car_n_1913973.html?1348604615" target="_hplink">Read the whole story here. </a>
William H. Masters III
This undated photo provided by the Huron County Sheriff shows William Howell Masters III, 60, of South Hampton, N.Y. Masters, the son of sex research pioneer Dr. William H. Masters, has been charged with exposing himself to a sheriff's deputy and another woman who were posing as recreational kayakers as part of a sting operation on a Michigan river. Huron County Sheriff Kelly Hanson says a completely nude Masters yelled for the women's attention Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, then made obscene gestures. (AP Photo/Huron County Sheriff)
'Rules 2 Da game of Hoez!!!'
Sandra Russell and Steve McDaniel allegedly had a list of pimp game rules with them when they were arrested on charges of drugs and prostitution. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/pimp-rules-list-for-da-game-of-hoez_n_1778493.html?utm_hp_ref=crime" target="_hplink">READ THIS LIST.</a>
This budding martial artist allegedly told deputies she was the "Karate Kid" before biting and slapping them
A DJ allegedly broke into the homes of men he saw at clubs and parties and performed oral sex on them as they slept, according to police in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg police said that Dajuan Porter, 27, stalked three men and sexually assaulted them in their homes, according to WHP-TV.
He allegedly lit a toilet on fire at a gas station. For religious reasons. After huffing 10 cans of Reddi-wip. Because the U.S. Constitution says he can. 'Nuff said.
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Ilyass Nabih and Thony Sengsoulya
Ilyass Nabih and Thony Sengsoulya, both of Nashua, New Hampshire, were arrested on drug charges in June 2012 after authorities spotted them allegedly trying to shoot up heroin while parked outside the Lawrence Police Station in Massachusetts.
<a href="http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Charge-Coffee-stand-masturbator-caught-again-3656307.php" target="_hplink">Mishkov is accused</a> of masturbating in front of a jail employee on his way to court to face a previous flashing charge.
Ray Woods allegedly tied 89 bags of heroin and cocaine to his penis. When cops found him out, he reportedly urinated all over himself. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/12/89-bags-of-heroin-tied-to-penis_n_1420733.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>
He had a real sweet tooth. Cops say they found 22-year-old Andrew Toothman lying down inside Kentucky Food World IGA market on Feb. 2, completely covered in chocolate and peanut butter. He'd also allegedly written "Sorry" in NyQuil on the floor. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/09/naked-chocolate-peanut-butter_n_1265639.html" target="_hplink">here.</a>
Timothy Paul Shelby
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Levon Davis used a picture of his girlfriend for target practice with his rifle. That's not illegal -- but it is against the law to accidentally shoot that bullet into your neighbor's house. He was charged with negligent use of a firearm.