A Hempstead man who served more than a year and a half in prison on a felony drug charge was suddenly released last month after a retest of the drugs in his case found that most of the cocaine initially analyzed by the Nassau crime lab was missing.

Nwakanma Ochei, 27, was released from prison Sept. 21 after prosecutors agreed that the missing drugs discovered during the re-examination at a private lab meant that there was a "legal impediment to his conviction," according to prosecutors and court papers. Prosecutors said they decided to ask a judge to dismiss Ochei's conviction because they could no longer prove that he had felony-weight drugs. He was recharged with a misdemeanor.

They said questions about what happened to the missing amount should be directed to police. Police, who had custody of the evidence until the new evaluation, declined to comment.

"This is clearly a case of a person wrongfully convicted of a felony charge due to errors by the police department and at the crime lab," said Joseph LoPiccolo, president of the Nassau Criminal Courts Bar Association, in a letter to his members. "This defendant did upstate prison time . . . on a case that should otherwise have been a misdemeanor."

The Nassau Police crime lab was closed in February after a national accreditation agency placed it on probation for a second time, and county officials said police managers may have failed to disclose information about inaccurate testing. State Inspector General Ellen Biben is investigating the events that lead to the lab's shutdown. Her office is expected to release a report on the matter in the coming weeks.

Ochei, who has prior convictions for drug possession and attempted assault, could not be reached for comment. Kent Moston, attorney in chief for the Nassau County Legal Aid Society, which represents Ochei, declined to comment on the case.

Nassau Police spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith declined to comment on the case because the lab is under investigation by Biben.

Dominick A. Labianca, a chemistry professor at the Brooklyn College of The City University of New York who serves as a consultant in many criminal cases, said it's unlikely that the lab used 77 percent of the cocaine during the initial test.

"Intuitively, it sounds like something is wrong here," he said.

When Ochei was arrested in February 2009, police reported that they found 2.521 grams of a substance on him. After testing at the Nassau crime lab, 1.696 grams of it was found to be pure cocaine, they said in court papers.

Ochei pleaded guilty to the felony charges and was sentenced to a year and a half in prison, minus time served. But he violated his parole after being released in June 2010 and was sent back to prison until November, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.

After the problems at the crime lab came to light earlier this year, Ochei asked prosecutors to retest the drugs in his case. Byrne said prosecutors would have retested them anyway, since they are re-examining all drugs in felony cases at the private lab in Pennsylvania.

When the lab received the drugs, there were only 0.52 grams left, said John Byrne, a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice. Of that, 0.39 grams was pure cocaine, he said. Anything under 0.5 grams is a misdemeanor under the law, prosecutors said.

Byrne said the district attorney's office recognized that "the amount of drugs seized would be smaller when tested a second time because part of the drug sample is used in the testing process."

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