Felon freed in drug lab scandal is 1st fugitive
Thousands of cases are in jeopardy after state lab chemist mishandled samples; concerns over release of dangerous criminals
By Denise Lavoie
BOSTON — Career criminal Marcus Pixley got a break when his bail was reduced after allegations that a state police lab chemist put thousands of drug cases like his in jeopardy by mishandling samples.
Now Pixley appears to have seized on that opportunity: After posting the lower $1,000 bail, he failed to show up for a scheduled court hearing on Wednesday. Pixley has become a fugitive in the latest fallout from the lab scandal.
On Friday, judges in Boston Municipal Court were scheduled to hear about 19 other cases from defendants whose cases may be impacted by the state drug investigation. The defendants are currently in custody in the House of Correction.
Pixley, 52, was awaiting trial in a 2011 arrest on charges of possession and distribution of crack cocaine and resisting arrest. His lawyer successfully argued this month that his bail should be lowered because the drugs in his case were tested by Annie Dookhan, a chemist charged with obstruction of justice and accused of faking test results, skipping protocols and mixing drug samples at a now-closed state lab.
After he failed to show up for his court hearing, a Suffolk Superior Court judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
Prosecutors opposed Pixley's bail reduction, arguing that he was being prosecuted as a habitual offender. He has a criminal record dating to 1977 — including rape, armed robbery, assault and battery, larceny and drug convictions.
Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley said prosecutors in his office have agreed to reduce bail and put sentences on hold for more than a dozen defendants since the lab was shut down a month ago. But he said they will continue to argue against bail reductions for career criminals or violent offenders, as they did in Pixley's case.
"One thing has become very clear: The defendants who stand to benefit most from the DPH lab disaster aren't low-level, non-violent drug users. They're moving large quantities of drugs, they've got long records or they're violent offenders," Conley said.
Pixley was arrested in February 2011 after police say he sold a plainclothes Boston officer two bags of crack cocaine.
When additional officers moved in to arrest him, he struggled with them and swallowed a third bag of crack, said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley. A fourth bag was recovered from the snow near the struggle, Wark said.
Wark said that because Pixley has three prior convictions for resisting arrest, he was charged as a habitual offender and faces a mandatory 2 1/2-year sentence if convicted.
Pixley's lawyer, Veronica White, said Pixley was indicted on "contaminated evidence."
"That's a serious, serious violation," White said. "The government is trying to hang their hat on some resisting arrest charge, but he has a viable defense against that based on our contention that the officers engaged in excessive force."
Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, has pleaded not guilty. The burgeoning investigation into her conduct prompted the shutdown of the lab in August and led to the resignation of the state's public health commissioner. Since the lab closed, more than 20 defendants have had their bail reduced and their sentences put on hold and have been released while their attorneys challenge the charges against them based on Dookhan's conduct.
State police, who took over operation of the lab from the Department of Public Health on July 1, have said Dookhan tested more than 60,000 samples covering 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab.
State officials said they have identified more than 1,100 defendants serving time in county jails or state prisons based on samples tested by Dookhan. It is unclear how many samples might have been tainted.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press
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