STOCKTON -- A former criminalist from the state's Central Valley Crime Lab in Ripon is on trial, accused of stealing drugs that had been seized by law enforcement.
Hermon Brown, 43, was indicted in 2010 by a grand jury on five felony counts of grand theft, possession of cocaine and methamphetamine, and possession of meth for sale.
The accusations of theft against Brown have compromised a few dozen cases in which he was expected to testify, prosecutors said shortly after the indictment.
The Ripon crime lab processes forensic evidence collected by agencies in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.
But defense attorney Roger Flores said in opening arguments his client was singled out in a rush to judgment. "You're talking about a man who gave his life to that lab," he said.
Flores accused the crime lab of improperly handling potential evidence against Brown found in a drawer by another criminalist. He said a tray that contained drugs was discarded without being fingerprinted.
Witness: Man linked to other cases
Deputy District Attorney Todd Turner called to the witness stand Assistant Lab Director Ali Hosseinzadeh, who testified about confronting Brown over the meth in the drawer.
Hosseinzadeh said that during the lab's investigation of Brown, the former lab worker was linked to other cases in which several grams of meth and cocaine were missing from evidence packets.
Investigators concluded the total weight of missing drugs to be half a pound.
According to Hosseinzadeh, Brown claimed that sometimes, when a part of a sample fell on the floor, he threw it away to avoid contamination.
But Hosseinzadeh said the lab's practice is to document and keep separately any contaminated samples.
Through his questioning, Flores suggested other explanations for the fluctuation, including evaporation and transcription errors. He cited a marijuana case tested by Brown in which there was an increase in weight, rather than a decrease, in reanalysis.
Brown, who posted bail nearly three years ago, has not been present in court since testimony began Wednesday. He was excused because of family medical issues.
Jurors are expected to hear evidence for at least one month.