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Convicted Montana pain doctor ordered to prison in March

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 23, 2020

Associated Press

Associated Press

HAMILTON, Mont. – Nearly seven years after a Montana medical clinic was raided, the physician/owner was ordered to start serving a 10-year prison sentence for overprescribing opiates.

A Missoula judge told defendant Chris Christensen on Friday to report to jail in Ravalli County in March and from there be transferred to Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

Defense attorney Josh Van de Wetering argued that sentencing Christensen to prison during the pandemic would be excessive punishment and “could very well kill him.”

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright countered that it was time for Christensen to start serving the sentence he received in February 2018, the Ravalli Republic reported.

“It’s been long enough,” Fulbright said. “There are victims who have the right to see justice take place.”

Christensen was convicted in 2017 and later sentenced to 20 years in prison, with 10 suspended, for two counts of negligent homicide involving the overdose deaths of two patients and for 20 other felonies related to overprescribing.

His sentence was stayed pending an appeal.

The Montana Supreme Court in September overturned the negligent homicide convictions. Christensen, however, also faced concurrent 10-year prison sentences for each of the other felonies – nine counts of criminal endangerment and 11 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs.

District Judge Jason Marks in Missoula denied Christensen a resentencing hearing Friday and denied further requests for delays related to COVID-19. He said he expects Christensen to make every effort to get a coronavirus vaccine – if possible – by the time he reports to jail.

Marks said he was concerned about Christensen’s underlying health conditions but lifted the stay on his sentence and added: “I want to make it crystal clear that I will not entertain more delay.”

Christensen’s clinic in Florence was raided in the spring of 2014 and charges were filed in 2015.

Prosecutors noted five of Christensen’s patients in Idaho died of overdoses in the 1990s. He did not face legal consequences then, but surrendered his medical license for two years.

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