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Archive for Saturday, November 23, 2002

Federal prosecutors press case for 30-year sentence for druggist

November 23, 2002

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— Federal prosecutors, seeking the stiffest possible sentence for drug-diluting pharmacist Robert R. Courtney, filed court documents Friday claiming Courtney's dilution of chemotherapy drugs hastened - and perhaps even caused - the death of a cancer patient.

Courtney's attorneys, however, said the government cannot prove a link between his actions and the death of Evelyn Coates of Kansas City.

Even if such a link were established, Courtney still can get no more than 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 5.

In Friday's filing, prosecutors presented reports prepared by two oncologists, Dr. John C. Weed and Dr. Mark J. Ratain.

Both said Coates' death in August 2001 from complications of ovarian cancer came sooner than it would have had she received full doses of her chemotherapy drugs.

"It is even possible she could have been cured if she had received the ... chemotherapy treatments in the strengths prescribed by her treating oncologist," Ratain wrote.

Courtney, 49, pleaded guilty in February to 20 felony counts of tampering with, adulterating and misbranding the cancer drugs Gemzar and Taxol. Under terms of the plea agreement, Courtney's sentence is to range from between 17 1/2 and 30 years in prison, without parole.

Courtney should avoid the maximum sentence because of his guilty plea and subsequent cooperation with authorities and federal prosecutors, his attorneys wrote.

"Mr. Courtney does not blame anyone for his conduct but himself," the defense response read in part. "However, a sentence of 17 1/2 years sends a stern message yet fairly recognizes his sincere remorse, his acceptance of responsibility, and his meaningful efforts to end this tragedy without needless litigation."

In his plea agreement, Courtney admitted diluting the expensive cancer drugs Taxol and Gemzar for 34 patients on 158 occasions between March and June 2001.

But he has since admitted to diluting drugs as far back as 1992, affecting as many as 4,200 patients.

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