K.C. pharmacist loses appeal of 30-year sentence

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Kansas City pharmacist's appeal of his 30-year sentence for diluting chemotherapy medications.

Robert Courtney was sentenced in 2002 after pleading guilty to diluting drugs for seriously ill patients and keeping the money for himself. Prosecutors have said 4,200 patients and about 98,000 prescriptions were affected by the scheme.

Courtney's attorneys had argued that the judge who sentenced Courtney should not have considered claims of "serious bodily injury" in cases to which Courtney admitted but was never charged and "extreme psychological injury" based on statements from his victims and their families.

As part of a plea agreement, Courtney's attorneys approved a sentencing range of between 17 and almost 22 years in prison, with an upper limit of 30 years if the judge found reasons for a longer sentence.

U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith sentenced Courtney to the 30-year maximum, saying the pharmacist's crimes justified the stiffest penalty.

The judge told Courtney his crimes were "a shock to the civilized conscience" and "beyond understanding."

J. R. Hobbs, one of the attorneys representing Courtney, said Monday he had not seen anything from the court and declined to comment. Don Ledford, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, said that office had no immediate comment.

Last year, federal prosecutors said they wanted Courtney brought back to court to be given a new sentence, asserting that his plea agreement included a promise that he would not appeal the sentence.

"The remedy for breach spelled out in the plea agreement is that the United States is released from its obligations ... but Courtney is bound by his guilty pleas," prosecutor Gene Porter wrote in a motion to the court. "Thus, the district court could resentence Courtney without being bound by the 30-year sentencing cap agreed to by the parties."

The Supreme Court had sent Courtney's case back to the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit for reconsideration of his sentence. It was part of a larger ruling that invalidated sentences for 450 defendants who claimed the federal guidelines under which they were sentenced are unconstitutional.

In June a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld its previous order on the sentence.

Courtney is serving his sentence at a federal prison in Cumberland, Md.

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