Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

Christensen gets prison sentence, out on appeal

Dr. Chris Christensen was sentenced to 20 years with 10 suspended after being convicted of negligent homicide and criminal endangerment related to his pain management prescription practices. Michael Howell photo.

By Michael Howell


Dr. Chris Christensen, a Florence medical doctor, was sentenced last week to 20 years in state prison with 10 years suspended. He was convicted this past November by a jury on 22 felony counts at one of the longest trials Judge Jeffrey Langton could remember conducting. Charges included two counts of felony negligent homicide, nine counts of criminal endangerment and 11 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs related to his pain medication prescription practices. He was also ordered to pay court costs of $25,867. Christensen, who did not admit guilt and plans on appealing the convictions, was released on $200,000 bail pending the outcome of the appeal.

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright, who prosecuted the case, asked the court to sentence Christensen to 50 years in prison with no time suspended. Fulbright said that Christensen’s behavior showed “callousness, arrogance and narcissism.” He also claimed that the defendant has shown no remorse or accountability for his actions, blaming everybody else but himself for the “death, destruction and addiction” that his victims have endured. Fulbright also noted that in his pre-sentence investigation, Christensen told the investigating officer that he did not believe he did anything wrong and would do it all again the same way.

Fulbright also brought up the allegations made against Christensen by the Idaho Board of Medicine where people also died under his care, and that board’s requirement that he receive training in opioid medication practices before he resumed practice.

“It’s apparent that the defendant thought he could jump across the border into Montana and essentially thumb his nose at the Idaho Board of Medicine and pick up where he left off with no specialized training and no change in his practices,” said Fulbright.

The state also asked the judge to place two conditions on the sentence, including revocation of his license to practice medicine in Montana and prohibiting him from traveling outside the country.

Defense attorney Josh Van de Wetering, on the other hand, asked for a probationary sentence in which the defendant would not be forced to serve any jail time.

“The state needs a bad guy to sentence,” he told the court, “but how do you reconcile that with the 50 letters from his patients. I don’t doubt that we could have gotten 1,000 letters from people who had a good experience with Dr. Christensen.”

Van de Wetering argued that the letters show how caring and knowledgeable Dr. Christensen actually is. “I believe the convictions are wrong. I believe the entire prosecution was wrong,” he said.

He likened the situation to past “fads” that were based on a social “hysteria” such as the shaken baby syndrome and sexual assault of children. He said he was certain that we would look back on this era as one of hysteria over opioid abuse.

Van de Wetering argued that Christensen wrote prescriptions “out of the goodness of his heart” and with no intentions of ever hurting anyone. “No matter how much in error, such a crime is not worthy of harsh punishment,” he said.

Langton said that neither of the recommendations struck him as appropriate.

“We need to acknowledge what happened,” he said. “We need a serious sentence, but, except in the most extreme cases where there is an ongoing danger to the community, I don’t believe in locking people up until their demise.” He said he was reluctant to put the defendant in a prison setting, but on the other hand, it was the only tool in his toolbox.

Langton declined to order the suspension of Dr. Christensen’s license to practice medicine in the state, stating that it was his opinion that the state Board of Medical Examiners had jurisdiction over licensing of professionals and he would not interfere. The Board has already suspended Christensen’s license and Langton said he could not imagine that they would ever reinstate it. He noted that without the power to issue prescriptions the defendant did not represent a threat to society. Combined with the fact that he has made all his court appointments since being arrested and is close to a million dollars in debt, according to his attorney, he did not consider Christensen to be a flight risk.

Christensen was sentenced to 20 years on each of two counts of felony negligent homicide with 10 years suspended. The sentences will run concurrently. The sentences would run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the other sentences. He was sentenced to 10 years each on nine charges of criminal endangerment and 11 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs. These sentences will run concurrently with each other but consecutively with the negligent homicide sentences.

This brings the total time to be served to 20 years with 10 years suspended. The execution of the sentence has been stayed and Christensen may remain free on bond until the Supreme Court rules on his first direct appeal of the case.

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