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Massachusetts expands probe into evidence falsified by state lab

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Investigators have identified 10,000 people convicted or accused of crimes based on evidence handled by a Massachusetts state crime lab chemist who falsified tests, and officials said they planned review thousands more cases dating back nine years.

David Meier, a former prosecutor appointed by Governor Deval Patrick to lead the investigation, said his team initially had identified 2,000 people imprisoned or held on bail because of evidence tested by crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan, a governor's office spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Investigators have now identified about 8,000 more people who have been convicted or were on probation or parole, bringing the total to about 10,000 people, he said.

So far 195 people have been released from prison pending new trials as a result of the investigation.

In August, Dookhan told investigators she "screwed up big time" by intentionally contaminating samples, forging approvals and failing to follow procedures, according to a police report.

Dookhan, who was removed from the testing lab in June 2011, said no one else at the lab knew what she had done, and that she had deliberately disobeyed orders. Dookhan said she was simply trying to get more work done.

Investigators have begun a file-by-file review of all cases handled by Dookhan to ensure they have identified everyone affected by Dookhan's lab work, an effort expected to take months, Meier said, according to the spokeswoman.

Dookhan handled more than 60,000 drug samples linked to 34,000 cases during her nine-year tenure at the state forensics lab in Jamaica Plain.

She resigned in March and was arrested six months later on charges of obstructing justice and lying about her training. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

The governor has requested $30 million from the state to cover the cost of the investigation, the spokeswoman said.

(Reporting by Daniel Lovering; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman)

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