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    Doctor guilty in OxyContin case

    Dr. James Graves is convicted of manslaughter for prescribing the drug to four patients who overdosed and died.

    ©Associated Press
    February 20, 2002


    MILTON -- A doctor was found guilty of manslaughter Tuesday for prescribing OxyContin to four patients who overdosed on the powerful painkiller.

    Dr. James Graves, who was Florida's top OxyContin prescriber, is the nation's first doctor to be convicted of manslaughter or murder in the OxyContin death of a patient.

    Graves, 55, was convicted of four counts of manslaughter, one count of racketeering and five counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

    He showed no emotion when the court clerk read the verdict. Circuit Judge Kenneth Bell revoked Graves' bail, but before bailiffs led him to jail he was allowed to hug his wife, Alicia, and children. His son, Jimmy, a college student, and his daughter, Jordan, a high school senior, were in tears.

    The jury had deliberated 4 hours and 25 minutes.

    Defense lawyer Michael Gibson said he will appeal the verdict, which he called disappointing.

    But prosecutor Russell Edgar said, "Justice was served by the jury's verdict."

    He said he would seek a lengthy prison term because of the large number of people affected and the nature of the crime.

    "I hope by attaining this verdict that we could assist in controlling the problem of prescription drugs so that it does not become rampant as it has in other parts of the country," Edgar said.

    At least two other doctors are facing charges of causing the deaths of patients from OxyContin overdoses. Dr. Frank Fisher is set for trial next week in Redding, Calif., on three counts of manslaughter, and West Palm Beach Dr. Denis Deonarine could face a death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in an overdose death. No trial date has been set for Deonarine.

    Edgar estimated that Graves brought in $500,000 a year from his pain management practice. The doctor testified he had up to 1,000 patients at his offices in Pace and Brewton, Ala.

    The practice was closed after less than two years when Graves was arrested in 2000.

    OxyContin is a 12-hour synthetic opiate. Addicts defeat the time delay and get a heroin-like high by chewing the pills or crushing them and then injecting the drug.

    Edgar said during closing arguments that Graves needed money after he was forced out of the Navy and fired from jobs at a Pensacola pain clinic and a state prison. He said the money rolled in as patients, most paying cash, returned repeatedly to feed their addictions.

    Defense lawyer H.E. Ellis Jr. admitted that Graves' record-keeping was poor, but said Graves was a doctor practicing medicine, not indiscriminately prescribing drugs.

    Two dozen pharmacists testified they stopped filling what they called "Graves cocktails" that included Lortab, another painkiller, the tranquilizer Xanax and the muscle relaxant Soma besides OxyContin.

    The parents of one of the victims, Jeffrey Daniels, said Graves got the verdict he deserved.

    "The law works. It does work. I had my doubts at times," said Raymond Lester Daniels Jr., the victim's father. His 30-year-old son died from an OxyContin overdose in November 1999. He was a self-employed carpenter and an Army veteran.

    Daniels' father and mother said Graves humiliated them at the trial.

    "Every time our son's name was mentioned, he would turn around, look and grin," Raymond Daniels said.

    He said Graves even waved at him and his wife, Jane, in their car outside the courthouse.

    Raymond Daniels said it took a "slimeball to take our son away and create a bad name for good doctors."

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