|Friday, March 05, 2004
One defendant may be cut in Knox trial
|Prosecutor Tom Bondurant asked for charges against Willard Newbill "Bill" James to be dismissed without prejudice. Cecil Byron Knox and Beverly Gale Boone face an April 13 trial.
By Jen McCaffery
Federal prosecutors asked a judge this week to drop charges against a licensed professional counselor who worked with Roanoke pain specialist Cecil Byron Knox.
In a very brief motion filed in federal court, prosecutor Tom Bondurant asked for charges against Willard Newbill "Bill" James to be dismissed without prejudice, which means that James could be tried again in connection with the alleged offenses. As of the most recent indictment in the case, James is charged with criminal conspiracy, mail fraud and health care fraud.
The request comes less than a month and a half before the defendants that remain in the case are scheduled to stand trial for the second time. Knox still faces charges that his prescription of painkillers such as OxyContin led to death or serious bodily injury, which carry a potential life sentence. He also faces other drug distribution and perjury charges.
Bondurant made clear in the motion that he only sought the dismissal of charges against James, not the other two defendants who remain in the case: Knox, 54, and office manager Beverly Gale Boone, 45.
"We wanted to streamline the case," Bondurant later said in a phone interview. "The main focus of the case has always been Knox and Boone, so we might as well pare it down, since it's already been tried before."
Bondurant also said he planned to refer the case against James to prosecutors on the civil side of the U.S. Attorney's Office, because "there are civil sanctions for violating health care laws."
Roanoke attorney David Damico, who represents James, said in another phone interview that he planned to ask Chief U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson to dismiss the charges against his client with prejudice, so that James could not be tried again in connection with the alleged offenses. But Damico said he had not heard before that his client could also face civil sanctions.
At the first trial last fall, the jury found defendants in the case not guilty on about half the charges, and could not reach the consensus required for conviction or acquittal on the remaining charges. Wilson declared a mistrial on the those charges, but they have yet to be resolved.
One juror interviewed on the condition of anonymity after the first trial said that the vote to acquit James, 58, on all five charges he faced was 11 to 1 for acquittal. Other jurors could not be reached or declined to comment to corroborate the first juror's recollection.
Should Wilson decide to drop charges against James, he would be the second defendant in the case to have all charges dropped. During the first trial, Wilson dismissed all charges against the fourth defendant in the case, Kathleen O'Gee, 55, of Pulaski, based largely on his finding that the prosecution did not present enough evidence of guilt.
Another defendant in the case, Tiffany Durham of Blue Ridge, pleaded guilty before the first trial to charges that she knew a felony was going on and did not report it.
Damico also pointed out that Wilson has not yet made a decision on the charges that remain from the first trial. Since then, federal prosecutors sought another indictment against Knox, Boone and James, which came down in January.
"We've already got pending motions from the old indictment, and we're entitled to some resolution on the issues," Damico said. A hearing in the case is scheduled for this afternoon.
During the first trial, federal prosecutors argued that James cheated health insurance programs through how his services were billed and participated in a kickback arrangement with Knox for patient referrals. But Damico argued that James was not responsible for the billing.
Knox and Boone, both of Roanoke County, are also still charged with charges of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, criminal conspiracy, mail fraud and health care fraud, as well as charges that they were part of an illegal kickback scheme. The trial is scheduled to begin April 13 in Roanoke.