|Friday, November 07, 2003
Knox juror: 1 vote keeps serious charges alive
|After the jury reviewed the charges they couldn't agree on, they reached 11-to-1 votes in favor of acquittal on some serious charges, one juror said.
By Jen McCaffery
Roanoke pain specialist Cecil Byron Knox was one vote away from getting off on charges that his prescriptions led to the death or serious injury of his patients.
A juror - speaking on condition of anonymity about the trial of Knox, his practice and two other defendants - said Wednesday that the split to acquit Knox on three charges in connection with the prescription of painkillers was 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal. The jury had found Knox not guilty Friday on 14 other charges that his prescriptions led to death or serious injury, but could not reach a unanimous verdict on the three remaining charges.
The jury, which finished its deliberations Friday after an eight-week trial, was also one vote away from acquitting licensed professional counselor Willard Newbill James on all five charges he faced in connection with health care billing in the case, the juror said.
While the jury was more evenly divided on the racketeering, conspiracy and fraud counts that remain in the case, the split on the vote to convict a defendant in the case never rose above 6 to 6, the juror said.
In the wake of the verdict, in which federal prosecutors failed to secure a single conviction against any defendant in the case, they announced their intention to prosecute the defendants in the case on the charges that remain. Knox could still face a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison on the three death or serious-injury drug distribution counts the jury could not agree on. Chief U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson has told lawyers in the case he plans to move the retrial to Lynchburg.
Two jurors who spoke to The Roanoke Times about the case questioned the wisdom of prosecuting the defendants in the case again, based on what they said was the lack of strong evidence in the case. Both said they voted for acquittal on all charges.
"I just hate for it to have to go to trial some place else," said a second juror, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "I just think it's a waste of taxpayers' money, and it's a shame people can't get on with their lives."
The first juror echoed that sentiment.
"Based on the evidence that the jury saw, my opinion is, they would have a hard time finding a jury to reach some convictions," the first juror said.
Jurors commuted from as far as Lynchburg and Newport in Giles County to serve during the trial, the longest in Western Virginia since the Abed "crime family" trial in 1998.
Most could not be reached for comment or did not agree to interviews.
The second juror prayed for guidance "morning and night" during the case.
"It's just a shame that Dr. Knox and Bill James both could not continue their practice when they're needed so badly," the second juror said.
Knox, 54, still faces charges in connection with the deaths of Monte Kidd, who lived in Salem, and Michael March, who lived in Bedford. Knox is also charged in connection with former patient Chris Ann Brown's daughter having been born suffering from withdrawal.
But the second juror saw Knox's continued prescription of painkillers to Brown during her pregnancy in a different light.
"There probably wouldn't have been a child today if he hadn't taken care of her," the second juror said, referring to Brown.
The jury discussed the concept of what constitutes legitimate medical practice, the first juror said, and found that the definition is not clear-cut, "it's more of an opinion."
"Even if there were 12 doctors doing this deliberation, there would be a split among them about what constitutes legitimate medical practice," the first juror said.
So the jurors relied a lot on patient medical charts with regard to the question of whether's Knox's prescriptions were medically legitimate, the first juror said.
In most cases, nothing really jumped out of the charts in terms of dosage, the first juror said.
"You take the same dose of medication," the first juror said. "For one patient, it may be adequate, or not enough. For another patient, it might be too much. So it was not easy to set a dose limit that once you went beyond that, it was beyond the scope" of legitimate medical practice.
The jury did not reach the 11-to-1 vote on the three death or serious counts at first, the first juror said. In the case of Monte Kidd, the original vote was 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal. With regard to Brown's baby, the vote was 9 to 3. And in the case of Michael March, the jury was split 8 to 4 in favor of acquittal.
But after Wilson asked the jurors to re-examine their views on the charges they could not agree on, the jury reached the 11-to-1 vote on the three counts, the first juror said. It was always the same juror who held out on all of the 11-to-1 counts, the first juror said.
The jury was also divided on some of the additional drug-distribution counts against Knox, the first juror said. For example, the jury split on whether four prescriptions made out to the same patient on the same day strayed outside the scope of legitimate medical practice. They also split on whether to convict on charges that prescriptions were written to patients who had track marks from drug injections on their arms , the first juror said.
But both jurors said the jury discussed whether a doctor should be held responsible for what patients do when they leave the doctor's office.
Meanwhile, the votes on the racketeering, fraud and conspiracy charges that the jury could not agree on were much more evenly split, except when it came to James, 58.
The first juror pointed out that experts in the case testified that coding for medical billing is confusing and that defendants tried to correct mistakes. But the first juror also said other jurors thought employees "turned a blind eye" to billing problems.