The fallout from a San Francisco police crime lab scandal is due to reach a federal courtroom in the city next week.
U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on a bid for evidence by lawyers for a former drug gang member and convicted murderer about the lab’s troubled drug analysis unit.
Former Page Street gang member Dennis Cyrus, 25, was convicted by a jury in Chesney’s court last year of 16 counts, including cocaine conspiracy, racketeering conspiracy and three gang-related murders.
Prosecutors said the gang used violence, intimidation and murder to protect its turf in the Western Addition neighborhood for selling crack cocaine and other drugs.
Former San Francisco drug unit technician Deborah Madden, who is suspected of stealing small amounts of cocaine from the facility, was one of seven analysts from the unit who testified during the four-month trial.
Madden has not been charged with any crime in connection with the lab, but the drug unit has been closed, testing is now done by outside laboratories and hundreds of state court prosecutions have been dismissed by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office while an investigation continues.
Cyrus’s lawyers have said in court filings that the drug-related convictions in his federal case could be put in doubt as well.
They are asking Chesney to authorize subpoenas to the San Francisco Police Department and any investigating body for information concerning Madden as well as her alleged assertion that there was “sloppy work” at the drug unit.
Defense attorney John Philipsborn wrote in an April 27 filing that the information would provide “some notion of how problematic the ‘San Francisco crime lab scandal’ is with respect to the convictions in this case.”
The defense lawyers have said that if the information appears to undermine some of Cyrus’s convictions, they may seek a new trial.
Cyrus’s drug-related convictions include cocaine distribution conspiracy, two cocaine possession counts and possibly several racketeering-related counts, since the alleged racketeering, or criminal enterprise, was based on drug trafficking. The three murder counts were defined as murder in aid of racketeering.
But prosecutors have said they don’t think the crime lab scandal will make any difference to Cyrus’s case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen wrote in an April 6 response, “The recent issues surrounding the SFPD drug laboratory raised by the defense cast no doubt on any of Cyrus’s multiple federal convictions.”
Frentzen said the gang’s cocaine dealing was corroborated by the six other drug analysts and by trial witnesses who testified that the Page Street gang sold crack cocaine daily in amounts “far in excess of the amount of crack cocaine seized and tested by SFPD.”
In addition, Frentzen, noted, Cyrus was convicted of one of the murders, of government informant Ray Jimmerson, both as a racketeering-related killing and in a separate count as the slaying of a protected federal witness.
The witness killing des not “even arguably implicate the SFPD drug laboratory,” Frentzen wrote.
Cyrus is scheduled to be sentenced by Chesney for the 16 counts June 15. Philipsborn said that if the judge allows the defense to seek evidence about the drug unit’s problems, he expects that the sentencing will be delayed.
Under U.S. law, Cyrus was eligible for a rare federal death penalty for the three racketeering-related murders, and prosecutors asked for that sentence. But the jury rejected a death penalty and opted for a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco has said the life without parole sentence is mandatory and must be imposed by the judge.
Cyrus was 18 when he killed three men within a three-week period in 2002.
The murders were the gunfire slayings of Joseph Hearns, 27, on Aug. 23; Randy Mitchell, 29, on Aug. 31; and Jimmerson, 25, on Sept. 8, 2002. Jimmerson was a member of the Big Block gang in Hunters Point who had become a government informant.
Frentzen told jurors at the start of the trial that Cyrus committed the murders because he wanted gang status as a “head buster.”