|Saturday, November 01, 2003
Jury finds pain specialist not guilty on many charges
|Cecil Byron Knox still faces a potential life sentence in connection with a patient's death.
By Jen McCaffery
A federal jury Friday found Roanoke pain specialist Cecil Byron Knox not guilty on most of the drug charges he faced in connection with the allegation that he prescribed narcotics outside the scope of legitimate medical practice. The jury also exonerated Knox's office manager, Beverly Gale Boone, of the drug distribution charges she faced.
The jury did not convict any of the defendents in the case.
The prosecution was one of an increasing number across the United States that has pitted law enforcement officials against some members of the medical community over the question of what constitutes the legitimate prescription of narcotics such as OxyContin and who should be making that decision.
At almost eight weeks - the longest trial in Western Virginia in decades - it was also a case that raised questions about the validity of some of the charges.
For example, Chief U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson dismissed all charges against one of the defendants, Kathleen O'Gee, before the defense even started its case.
But federal prosecutors have already vowed to try Knox, Boone and licensed professional counselor Willard Newbill James on the remaining charges for which the jury could not reach a unanimous decision, they said Friday. Most of those charges are racketeering, conspiracy and fraud charges.
Knox also still faces a potential life sentence in connection with two allegations that he prescribed painkillers outside the scope of legitimate medical practice, which led to the death or serious injury of two people.
Those people include Monte Kidd, a Salem resident and Knox patient who died in October 2001. Federal prosecutors argued that he died of an overdose of painkillers that Knox prescribed.
Knox is also still accused of causing severe withdrawal symptoms suffered by a baby born to a patient, Chris Ann Brown, who took medications Knox had prescribed. Knox also still faces other drug distribution charges.
After the verdict, Knox, flanked by his wife, Donna, and son and daughter, said he was grateful for the support he received.
But he added, "we still have a ways to go." He said he felt very positive about the future, and that the first thing he planned to concentrate on was getting his health back in order. Knox is in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
He also vowed, "I'm going to be back in practice."
But federal prosecutors, in telephone interviews after the verdict came down, made a promise of their own Friday.
"We greatly appreciate the hard work of this jury and are disappointed that they were not able to finish their work," said U.S. Attorney John Brownlee. "But we will prosecute Cecil Knox for the racketeering, fraud and remaining drug counts, as well as Ms. Boone and Mr. James."
Federal prosecutor Rusty Fitzgerald said in a separate interview that "the jury's inability to resolve some of the counts is no indication of the strength of the case or the brilliance of the defense attorneys. It's an indication that this jury, with these instructions, just couldn't decide."
A juror in the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity in a telephone interview, said the deliberations - which took about 5 1/2 days - were "long and intense" because there was so much to consider. But, the juror said, "overall, there just wasn't a whole lot of strong evidence either way. This was a case with a lot of opinion."
They worked hard, the juror said, and even though they had differences of opinion, they respected one another's views.
"Every single person really tried hard to come up with what they felt was right," the juror said.
The juror said the decisions the 12-member jury made hinged mostly on whether the defendants had the knowledge and the intent to commit crimes.
"I think the evidence acknowledged mistakes were made and there was some carelessness," the juror said. "But to make the jump from that to that they were criminal acts, there just was not strong evidence there."
With respect to office manager Boone, the juror said the jury members agreed that she was not guilty of the drug charges she faced because "she didn't write the prescriptions and she didn't personally give them drugs or anything like that."
The juror also said the jury tried hard to look at the evidence pertaining to each of the charges, and not what Knox might have done outside of the charges that they might have considered inappropriate.
"If something didn't really apply to the charges specifically, we didn't really consider it," the juror said.