Hamilton Jury Finds Doctor Guilty On All 22 Counts
A Hamilton jury has found Dr. Chris Christensen guilty on all 22 counts in a trial where he was accused of negligent homicide for causing the deaths of two patients in Montana.
Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright said Christensen could be sentenced to a maximum penalty of over 400 years in prison on all 22 charges, and doesn't believe the sentence should be tempered due to the serious nature of the crimes.
"Given the history that we laid out where Dr. Christensen also did this in the state of Idaho with absolutely no notice of it there," Fulbright said. "He came over here, and once he got his DEA license back in 2011, he immediately started the same conduct, and within six months had his first overdose death."
Fulbright said the successful prosecution was a team effort that took a great deal of time to put together.
"There were a lot of people behind the scenes, including the DEA, the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office, and other offices across the state," he said. "We had a deputy prosecutor, Thorin Geist who was assigned to this task force the whole time that really was the outgrowth of repeated requests from the healthcare community. These were reports from the medical community about the instances of over prescribing, and that's what led to the task force and eventually the successful prosecution."
Fulbright said the conviction and sentence should send a message to those who practice medicine outside the boundaries of accepted practice.
"There was recognition from the medical community that Dr. Christensen was an outlier,"not just a difference of opinion, but way out there," he said. "It's a message for anybody like him, but it's not for everybody, because he was 'way out there'."
Christensen’s attorney, Josh Van de Wetering of Missoula, said he was disappointed with the verdict.
“He was charged with two counts of negligent homicide, nine counts of criminal endangerment and 11 counts of illegally distributing dangerous drugs,” Van de Wetering said. “We argued, and will continue to argue, that Dr. Christensen really didn’t commit any criminal acts, even if one believes that his prescriptions were misguided, that doesn’t constitute a crime. That carries over into the other charges, as well, that he was not the one responsible for people’s deaths, and he didn’t endanger anyone simply by writing prescriptions.”
Fulbright said sentence will be handed down sometime after Christmas.
Van de Wetering said once sentence is passed he and his client will appeal the decision. Christensen, who is 69, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
For the time being, Christensen remains free on $200,000 bond pending sentencing.