Crime & Courts

Potential Schneider jurors are questioned

The prosecution could begin presenting evidence as early as this afternoon against a former doctor and nurse charged with illegally prescribing painkillers.

Stephen and Linda Schneider listened Monday as a federal judge, their lawyers and prosecutors questioned jurors for their trial.

The length of the trial, which could last two months or more, and the number of charges against the couple were among the questions being asked Monday. Jury selection will continue this morning.

U.S. District Judge Monti Belot said he hopes lawyers will be able to give opening remarks this afternoon, and prosecutors will begin presenting their case.

The Schneiders operated a clinic in Haysville between 2002 and 2008, specializing in pain management.

Prosecutors say the couple illegally prescribed painkillers, which led to fatal overdoses of 68 patients. The couple is directly charged with contributing to the deaths of 21 people.

Stephen Schneider was an osteopath and Linda Schneider a licensed practical nurse who managed the clinic.

A 34-count indictment claims the Schneiders liberally prescribed strong narcotics, even when there was evidence the patients were abusing the drugs.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway asked jurors whether they believed doctors had a responsibility to monitor medications and care for patients who are addicted.

"If they know about it, yes," one man answered.

The defense asked questions about the personal responsibility of the patients to be honest with their doctors.

Lawrence Williamson, attorney for Stephen Schneider, asked one man whether he was familiar with people with drug problems who lied or were able to finagle ways to feed their addictions.

"They're the most resourceful people in the world," said another man, who said he had friends who were drug addicts.

Another said he had a mother who had been addicted to painkillers during her battle with cancer, but it had made her comfortable in the final days.

"Now you know, we're not talking about end-of-life issues," Treadway said. The man said he did.

Defense lawyers also questioned panelists about the sheer number of crimes against the couple, and whether that would keep jurors from evaluating each charge individually. Most said they could.

"And by wrongdoing, we're talking about crimes, not sloppy paperwork, a lost records or filling in the blanks wrong," said Kevin Byers, a lawyer for Linda Schneider.

Several people were dismissed because they said they had already made up their minds and couldn't be fair.

Federal authorities raided the Schneiders' clinic and seized records in 2005. Within weeks, the first of more than a dozen malpractice suits by former patients was filed in Sedgwick County district court.

It took two more years before the couple was arrested in December 2007. They've spent more than two years awaiting trial.