Drug suspect withdraws plea in lab scandal


BOSTON (AP) - A drug defendant serving time in jail has been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and will be released while awaiting trial. It's the first of what could be many cases jeopardized by a scandal at a Massachusetts drug-testing lab.

David Danielli was originally charged with trafficking oxycodone pills, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in June. The came after Department of Public Health officials told Norfolk County prosecutors that drug samples in his case might be called into question because testing protocols were violated by a chemist at a lab in Boston. 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 Attorney General Martha Coakley'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 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.

David Traub, a spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, said Danielli will appear Thursday in Norfolk Superior Court, where he is expected to be released on personal recognizance.

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," 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."

Traub said Danielli's case will go back on a list of cases awaiting trial until prosecutors and his lawyer figure out how to handle the case.

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