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BOSTON (AP) - A chemist at a Massachusetts drug lab who admitted faking test results in criminal cases pleaded guilty Friday to obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence in a scandal that has jeopardized thousands of convictions.
Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to the charges Friday in Suffolk Superior Court.
She was sentenced to three to five years in prison, followed by two years' probation. She was led away in handcuffs and will begin serving her sentence at a state women's prison immediately.
Her attorney did not comment, and her parents left without speaking to reporters.
Dookhan sent the state's criminal justice system into a tailspin last year when state police shut down the state Department of Public Health lab she worked at after discovering the extent of her misconduct.
Prosecutors said Dookhan admitted "dry labbing," or testing only a fraction of a batch of samples, then listing them all as positive for illegal drugs, to "improve her productivity and burnish her reputation."
Since the lab closed in August 2012, at least 1,100 criminal cases have been dismissed or not prosecuted because of tainted evidence or other fallout from the lab's shutdown.
Prosecutors from state Attorney General Martha Coakley's office recommended a sentence of as many as seven years in prison, while Dookhan's lawyer recommended a sentence of no more than a year. Judge Carol Ball said in a written memo that she would not impose a sentence of more than three to five years if Dookhan decided to change her plea to guilty.
"I believe that that decision, made my the judge, is hers to make. Obviously we make a recommendation that we think is appropriate, we thought five to seven was appropriate. That decision is always going to be in the judge's hands and her's is also above sentencing guidelines," Coakley said.
Dookhan's lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, argued that she made a series of tragic mistakes and that her only motivation was to be "the hardest-working and most prolific and most productive chemist."
"This is not a woman who ever set out to hurt anyone," Gordon argued during a court hearing last month.
Prosecutors, however, said Dookhan's actions had caused "egregious damage" to the criminal justice system and cost the state millions of dollars to assess the damage and mitigate the effect on thousands of people charged with drug offenses during the nine years Dookhan worked at the lab. The court system has been flooded with motions for new trials filed by defendants in drug cases.
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