Back on the street

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February 5, 2013, 10:47 pm
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(NECN: Ally Donnelly) - Juan Irene is a convicted child rapist who Boston police say helped sell heroin in a school zone.

David Huffman has a rap sheet 19 pages long. He was serving seven to 10 years after pleading guilty to gun charges and dealing heroin and cocaine.

Damien Beverly's record dates back a decade. Most recently, he was convicted of selling heroin to undercover police officers.

Breaking and entering, assault and battery, distribution. Morphine, Crack, marijuana, Oxy - All of these men were once behind bars, and now all of these men are back on the streets in one of the biggest scandals in state history.

Showing us his GPS-monitoring bracelet outside a Suffolk Superior courtroom, Anthony Nunez said, "A big smile -- that's it."

A big smile, that was the 21 year old's reaction when he learned he had joined the ranks of the so-called Dookhan defendants. He is one of more than 286 men and women who have had their cell doors swung open in the last five months because former state chemist Annie Dookhan may have faked the drug test results that put them behind bars.

Nunez was sentenced to two a half years for dealing crack in a school zone in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. He did a year at MCI-Norfolk and got out in October.

"It's like a bunch of alpha males trying to make a living," he said. "That's all it is. You come out kind of messed up in the head -- a little cuckoo."

And 286 accused and convicted felons back on the street is the tip of the iceberg. State officials say at least 1,150 convictions are at risk as investigators continue to comb through the 34,000 criminal cases they've tied to Dookhan. The defendants are heading back to Chelsea, Chatham, Quincy, Dedham, Lowell -- almost every county in the Commonwealth.

"These defendants are pretty serious criminals. Not a single defendant - not one - in Suffolk County was a first time offender," Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said. "On one given day, there were 16 defendants brought before the court. They were responsible for, I think, 68 gun violations. And like 100 drug violations."

Though hundreds have been freed, most defendants have not been exonerated. The state called judges and clerks out of retirement to man special drug courts created to handle the Dookhan cases. Bails have been reduced, probation ordered, sentences "stayed" -- the cases put on pause -- while the state tries to figure out how -- or even if -- they can retry them.

Last week, 40-year-old David Santos walked in to Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn a convicted drug dealer. Thirty minutes later, he walked out with no criminal record whatsoever. Standing with his wife outside their Hudson, Mass. home he said, "It feels good, you know, back home with my family."

In 2008, Santos was sentenced to 15 years for dealing cocaine, which he allegedly told police he had cut with rat poison. He had served two years at MCI-Concord when his sentence was stayed and he was released in October. A first-time offender, he came back to court seeking a new trial, but prosecutors were forced to admit Annie Dookhan was their star witness, and they didn't have enough other evidence to take another run at him.

We asked him, "People say, you're a drug dealer, you should not be out on the street. What do you say?"

Waiting for his daughters to get home from school, he laughed and said, "They can think whatever they want, you know?"

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone says they've tried hard to keep these defendants behind bars, but upholding the law is critical.

"We can't prove these cases beyond a reasonable doubt," he said in his Woburn office. "And, at that point, we have to make very frustrating, very disconcerting decisions."

Randy Gioia is with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the agency in charge of public defenders.

"Are they going to re-prosecute every case? Are they going to fight every case? Because if they do that, it's going to take years and it's going to take hundreds of millions of dollars to resolve," Gioia said.

Gioia says the DAs should stop dragging their feet on releasing defendants and that the remaining 864 cases of people still incarcerated should be processed quickly. He says the defendants should be given new trials as soon as possible and than many should have their cases dismissed in bulk.

"These are people who need help, these are people that use drugs," Gioia said. "I don't agree with the notion that dangerous criminals are being released from prison. That's just, I think, spreading fear where fear doesn't have to be spread."

Suffolk County has seen the highest number of defendants. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis says communities should brace for increased violence, particularly when the weather warms. He says drug dealing comes with all sorts of ancillary crimes, such as assault and battery and armed home invasions. He points to the horrific murders in Mattapan where four people, including a toddler, were gunned down over drug money.

"There is big money that's involved with drug dealing and so when you get people who have been in prison for a long time, who come out on the street, that's an option for them to get the money that they need to live, if they don't get a job, if they don't take the proper route," Commissioner Davis said.

To that end, officials say police and Department of Correction staff sit down with every Dookhan defendant before release and talk to them about programs available -- rehab, job training, emergency housing -- whatever might keep them from going back inside.

After spending six months in jail for possession, convicted armed robber Jeremy Taylor hopes for a fresh start to clean up his act and help raise his infant daughter. After a hearing before a judge in Suffolk drug court, he said, "I just want to move on from this and hope that anyone else who experience this again, maybe they can get a chance, maybe they can get help, maybe they can get rehab treatment instead of jail."

We asked convicted crack dealer Anthony Nunez, "For people to hear all of these people come out of jail and prison and say I'm going to get on the right track. You didn't have a job. You still don't have a job. You say you want to get on the straight and narrow. Why should we believe you?"

Casual and friendly, he says, "I don't know. Just wait and see. Who knows?"

Police say they have been waiting and seeing. Though officials insist they don't track numbers statewide, Conley says in Suffolk County alone, 15 defendants, or about 10 percent of those released, have already re-offended and are back in custody. Convicted rapist and accused drug dealer Marcus Pixley is back behind bars after violating parole. Sex offender and alleged heroin dealer Luis Quiles was re-arrested for allegedly robbing a department store. Police say convict Arthur Cole went right back to dealing cocaine and heroin with his girlfriend just weeks after being released in December.

"If they do go back to a life of crime, we are going to be there and we are going to arrest them and it's going to happen promptly," Commissioner Davis warned.

Davis has put more cops on the beat. The DAs have hired extra lawyers. There are costs for judges and clerks and litigation. Experts estimate this scandal could cost the state anywhere from $30 million to $300 million. Or, says dealer Anthony Nunez, perhaps more.

"They better get ready to pay up," he said. "There's a lot of lawsuits coming. They want their money."

We ask if he plans to sue the state.

"I want some money," he chuckles. "Pain and suffering."

Tags: Ally Donnelly, Gerry Leone, Dan Conley, annie dookhan, David Huffman, state drug lab scandal, Juan Irene, Damien Beverly, Ed David, Anthony Nunez, David Santos, Randy Gioia
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