Christensen gets 20 years, 10 suspended
MISSOULA, Mont. —
The Florence doctor found guilty in November of 22 felony drug counts was sentenced to 20 years with 10 suspended.
Dr. Chris Christensen is out on $200,000 bail pending an appeal.
Christensen walked out of the courtroom with supporters and will wait to hear his fate until the Montana State Supreme Court affirms his conviction. That could be more than a year.
Judge Jeffrey Langton said he is "reluctant" to put Christensen, 69, in prison. But he said it is the only "tool in his toolbox."
Langton referred to the opioid crisis that is sweeping the country, and a presentence report where Christensen told the officer he did nothing wrong and would do it again.
"That's a very startling statement," said Langton.
But Christensen is free, for now.
While dozens showed up with signs in support, Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright asked for 50 years with none suspended.
"The defendant caused death, destruction and addiction," said Fulbright, "for which, interestingly, he still blames everybody but himself."
Defense attorney Josh Van de Wetering said he thinks we will look back on this case as a time of opioid "hysteria."
"They can't reconcile a doctor who would prescribe opioids but do it in a caring manner," he said.
But Sharon Griffin had a different take on Christensen's bedside manner. Her son, Gregg Griffin, was trying to recover from an opioid addiction. He died under Christensen's care.
"If he was innocent he would have reached out to us in condolences," said Griffin. "There was not one word from him. Not one phone call."
Griffin said her grandchildren grieved for a father who died "senselessly."
"Now he's going to be out," she said. "And who knows how long this appeal could be."
Some family members who supported Christensen's prosecution left the courtroom quickly after the sentencing was read.
As many as 20 or 30 people held signs in Christensen's favor outside the courthouse early Friday morning.
Emily DeMyer is a longtime friend and patient of Christensen.
"I have been treated by him, said DeMyer. "He has treated multiple family members and has shown nothing but care, compassion and respect."
Christensen chose not to speak to the judge in his own defense. He declined a request for an interview.