HAMILTON - A former Florence doctor was sentenced Friday after a jury found him guilty of nearly two dozen felonies, including two counts of negligent homicide.
However, he won’t be going to prison unless the Montana Supreme Court affirms his conviction, even after Judge Jeffrey Langton found Dr. Chris Christensen was “careless to the extreme with some patients.”
The former doctor received 20 years in prison with ten of those suspended, but he will remain free on a $200,000 bond until the appeal process is over.
Even though Christensen was sentenced for the 22 felony counts he was found guilty of last year, it doesn’t mean that he is headed to prison right away.
Judge James Langton, who has been presiding over this case since Christensen first went under investigation for over-prescribing opioids in 2014, said that he did not think the former doctor was a flight risk or an immediate threat to the community.
Just before handing down the sentence, the judge said he was reluctant to place Christensen with other inmates.
“I’m reluctant to put the defendant in a prison setting with the types of people that are there," Langton said. "On the other hand, that is really the only tool in my toolbox.”
Although Christensen did not make a statement, his attorney responded to some things he did say on record during the pre-sentencing investigation process, indicating that he had no remorse for his actions, and quote “would do it all over again.”
“I would say on his behalf, that he is behalf, that I know he is regretful for the deaths. I have talked to him about it. He is deeply regretful for bad outcomes for all of his patients," said defense attorney Josh Van Der Wetering. "That is the way he is. One can be regretful and wish for alternative outcomes without saying that one is the cause of death. We’re of course saying that he is not the cause of death.”
Judge Langton acknowledged that Christensen had a history of prescribing “extremely shocking levels of opiates.”
But the judge said he took into account the supportive statements of more than 50 people who spoke up on Christensen’s behalf.
The appeal process could take as long as a year. The judge said that because so many “novel applications of the law” occurred in the case, he expects the high court to give the proceedings a thorough review.
In the meantime, Christensen is not allowed to practice medicine. His attorney asked that the $26,000 in court costs be waived because Christensen is close to $1 million in debt.