SALEM — It was the kind of case that defense lawyers usually concede is a tough one to beat: three hand-to-hand sales of heroin to an undercover police officer, the “marked” money used for the transaction later found on the suspect.
But the case against Carlos Cedeno happened also to be one of thousands that hinged on the work of now-former state crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan.
And on March 14, it became one of the first cases, if not the first, in Essex County dismissed as a result of Dookhan’s alleged misconduct. At the time prosecutors couldn’t go forward because Dookhan had stopped working at the lab, the docket noted.
Then, on Friday, months after prosecutors and Salem police had refiled the charges, the case was dismissed again.
It’s one of an estimated 8,451 drug samples in Essex County that may have been tainted by Dookhan’s involvement. In interviews with state police, Dookhan has admitted to making educated guesses about samples rather than testing them, as well as to tampering with samples so they would turn out to be positive for drugs when initial tests came back negative.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said Carrie Kimball Monahan, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, whose office is now sorting through the list of samples that came from police departments in Essex County.
At the same time, so are defense attorneys. Of the 8,451 cases in this county, the vast majority involved public defenders or other court-appointed counsel, leaving the attorneys to pore over 7,000 cases.
And that’s on top of the rest of their work.
The county’s courts are also trying to get a handle on the scope of the problem. The Salem Superior Court clerk’s office has been fielding a spate of motions, including lawyers in pending cases seeking delays in trials, and lawyers for those already convicted seeking motions for new trials and stays of sentences being served.