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West Palm Beach doctor's plea deal rejected by judge in manslaughter case

Posted at 9:26 AM, Dec 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-28 18:18:27-05

Not tough enough - that's the message from a judge who believes a plea deal for a former West Palm Beach doctor charged with manslaughter is too lenient.

John Christensen plead guilty to two manslaughter charges related to over-prescribing pain medications. His plea did not accept responsibility for the deaths.

He also pleaded guilty in his best interest to an oxycodone trafficking offense. The charges come from a state court case which began in 2013.

He also had a federal fraud case.

This fall, Christensen agreed to a plea deal which said he'd get the same sentence in state court as in federal court. State Judge Dina Keever expected the federal judge to sentence Christensen to about three years in prison.

But last month the federal judge sentenced Christensen to one year in prison and three years of probation.

Keever did not think one year was appropriate in a manslaughter case, so she threw out the deal.

“I feel a deal is a deal,” said Christensen’s defense attorney Richard Lubin. “But we'll, of course, honor what she told us to do and decide how to proceed.”

Christensen has three options: move forward with portions of the deal he agreed to which calls for a sentence of up to five years in prison. Negotiate a new deal. Or go to trial where a conviction carries a 25-year minimum sentence.

Prosecutors could also amend the charges it filed against Christensen.

“My son was 24-years-old getting 500 pills per month,” said Ken Fusco.

He said his son was a patient of Christensen’s before his death. George Lauzerique said the same thing. Authorities did not charge Christensen for the deaths of Fusco’s or Lauzerique’s children. But both men were in court Wednesday and are pleased the judge ruled against a short sentence for Christensen.

“The only way I’d truly be comfortable is if he died in jail,” said Lauzerique. “But five years is better than one.”

Christensen will remain in house arrest until at least his next court date set for January 25th.