Wichita A former police chief testified Wednesday that a doctor whose clinic is linked to dozens of overdose deaths helped him and his wife with their chronic back pain and encouraged both to try to reduce their medication.
James Kitchings, Hays-ville’s former police chief, was among several former patients who testified on behalf of Dr. Stephen Schneider during his trial in Wichita. Schneider and his wife, Linda, are charged with unlawfully writing prescriptions, health care fraud and money-laundering. If convicted, they could face up to life in prison.
After a day of testimony, U.S. District Judge Monti Belot told defense attorneys they could not call any more patients because their testimony was repetitive. Prosecutors spent five weeks calling witnesses; defense attorneys began late last week.
Prosecutors allege the couple’s clinic in Haysville was a moneymaking conspiracy and a known “pill mill” where addicts could easily get prescriptions. But defense attorneys, and witness testimony Wednesday, portrayed Schneider as a compassionate doctor who was duped by patients who lied about their medical problems.
“Dr. Schneider has always been a very attentive, down-to-earth cowboy type who would sit down and talk to you in your language to see what was going on,” Kitchings said.
Kitchings said Schneider helped him and his wife with their back pain and advised them to try to reduce the amount of painkillers they took. Kitchings’ wife, whose pain was more serious than his, was referred to another doctor for surgery, he said.
On cross-examination, Kitchings acknowledged that he had health insurance — an attempt by the prosecution to bolster its contention that patients with health insurance were a higher priority than lower-paying Medicaid patients.
Wichita firefighter Mike Hadley credited Schneider with saving his daughter’s life when she was diagnosed with cancer as a high school freshman. The doctor saw the teen immediately as a walk-in patient, X-rayed the lump in her neck and sent her for further diagnostic scans the next day. He then referred her to a cancer specialist as soon as the test results came in.
“We were fast-tracked,” Hadley said.
Auto technician Terry White told jurors that he injured his back when he fell six feet onto a concrete floor, and injured his neck when some freight fell on him while he was unloading a truck.
“I would physically not be able to work, the pain was so intense,” he said.
When under Schneider’s care, he could sleep though the night without pain. But after the Schneider Medical Clinic closed, his new doctor prescribed a lower dose of the same painkillers — but pain awakens him around 3 a.m., White testified.
“He is a good doctor,” White said.
The judge’s decision to not allow more testimony from former patients baffled Schneider’s defense attorneys, noting that jurors heard several weeks of testimony from witnesses called by prosecutors.
“It’s extremely difficult, or near impossible, to receive a fair trial when the government is allowed to present an incomplete, one-sided picture of a medical practice and the defense is not allowed to put on near the evidence that the government did, even though we are putting on specific facts,” attorney Lawrence Williamson said after the hearing.
Williamson said the prosecution’s expert witnesses who testified on selected patients’ medical charts only gave jurors a sense of the clinic’s documentation practices, while allowing patients to testify in their own words showed the actual medical practice.
The ruling leaves the defense case with a few employees and experts left to testify, he said.