Evidence disputed as Kansas 'pill mill' trial nears

WICHITA, Kan. | With trial three weeks away, attorneys for a doctor and his wife awaiting charges on what the government calls a "pill mill" are in a battle with prosecutors over what evidence jurors will hear.

Prosecutors contend that the Haysville clinic run by Stephen Schneider and his wife, nurse Linda Schneider, was responsible for 18 percent of Sedgwick County's overdose deaths between 2003 and 2007. The Schneiders are charged in a 34-count indictment with directly causing four deaths and contributing to 21 deaths.

Defense attorneys want to introduce evidence about the more than 900 drug-seeking patients kicked out for not following the clinic's pain treatment guidelines. They argued in court documents filed Friday that the patients would not have been terminated if the clinic were merely a front for a drug-dealing operation.

Prosecutors want jurors to hear only evidence related to patients who died. They have argued in court documents that evidence that the Schneiders acted lawfully on other occasions is irrelevant.

Prosecutors also have asked the judge to bar attorneys from telling jurors what the defense considers the constitutional rights of patients to receive controlled substances for the treatment of chronic pain. Prosecutors argued that defense counsel is not entitled to inform jurors that they have the power to acquit the Schneiders on grounds other than the facts in evidence.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Monti Belot will hold a hearing to sort out several motions, including one that seeks to hold the Schneiders and their attorneys in contempt for allowing unsupervised access to the now closed clinic.

Defense attorneys are also seeking to limit the trial to the deaths actually charged in the indictment, saying it is unwieldily to defend all 59 deaths prosecutors contend are linked to the clinic.

Among some of the disputed evidence is a photo of the doctor's yellow Hummer with the skull-and-crossbones license plate. The defense argued the photo unfairly prejudices jurors by showing the doctor's wealth.

Another disputed item is a letter written by one of the four patients whose deaths the doctor is charged with directly causing. In it, patient Patricia Gaskill reportedly thanked the doctor and clinic for turning her life around through pain treatment and enabling her to overcome her perpetual debilitating pain.

In a motion filed Friday, the defense claims the letter should be allowed, arguing that it is not hearsay and is crucial in showing the doctor prescribed Gaskill the painkillers in good faith for a legitimate medical purpose. Gaskill overdosed in 2005 on medication prescribed for pain from a total knee replacement, according to court documents in a separate civil litigation.

The Schneiders are charged with conspiracy, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, health care fraud resulting in death and illegal monetary transactions, among other charges.

Their trial begins Feb. 2.