In early December, an individual was sentenced to a thirty-year term in State Prison that unfortunately seems far too light.  This is the matter of Robert R. Courtney, a pharmacist.  Well, a former pharmacist.  Mr. Courtney was sentenced to the maximum term in prison for his crimes, as he was convicted of diluting chemotherapy drugs for thousands of cancer patients.  At the sentencing, the judge listened to many grief-stricken family members talking about how the greed of Mr. Courtney cost them days, weeks, months, or years with their loved ones.  The presiding judge told Mr. Courtney that, “Your crimes are a shock to the civilized conscience.  They are beyond understanding.”  That’s for sure.  How do you understand something like that?  How do you forgive or move past something like that?

Mr. Courtney’s response: “I have committed a terrible crime that I deeply and severely regret . . . I wish I could change everything.”  The time for people to consider their behavior is before they do it, not afterward when they get caught.  When I was a  child, my father used to call these “crocodile tears.”  They are easy to gush after harmful behavior is perpetrated, but it would be nice if the individual would consider his behavior before doing whatever he does. 

The motive here, acknowledged by Mr. Courtney was greed.  Assistant U.S. Attorney, Gene Porter, who prosecuted this case stated that Mr. Courtney took from the patients who came to see him, their hope, their life, and their quality of life.  It is almost inhuman to try to picture people taking chemotherapy drugs and the disappointment that they suffered when the drugs did not do what the patients hoped, or what the family members hoped.  This monster of a human being took away life, took away hope, increased pain, and increased peoples’ grief.

In addition to the thirty-year sentence, Mr. Courtney was also ordered to pay 10.4 million dollars in restitution.  I hope he has it.

At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie Smith listened to relatives of the now-deceased patients who were clients of Mr. Courtney, and got to hear how the now-deceased patients reacted when they learned that the drugs with which they were treated were diluted by Mr. Courtney.  At least those that were still alive at the time got to learn this.

Mr. Courtney was arrested in August of 2001, and in February of last year, he pleaded guilty to diluting the cancer drugs taxon and gemzar.  It is known that he diluted 158 chemotherapy doses for thirty-four patients of one Kansas City doctor.  In his plea agreement, Mr. Courtney admitted and acknowledged that he has been diluting drugs since 1992.  Since 1992!  He acknowledged that this covered approximately 4200 patients, 400 doctors, and 98,000 (!) prescriptions.  Is thirty years the best we could do for this murderer? 

It seems that Mr. Courtney would make approximately $800.00 on one dose of gemzar by significantly diluting the prescription. 

The prosecutor in this case has indicated that Mr. Courtney was not charged with murder, for while his behavior in all likelihood, hastened some deaths and caused others, murder would be difficult to prove.  Mr. Courtney has stated that he had a $600,000.00 tax bill to pay, and $333,000.00 that he had pledged to his church.  I cannot help but think that his church would have been happier to not have the money obtained by these extraordinarily ill-begotten means. 

In short, Robert Courtney is an animal in the truest sense of the word.  He has no conscience, and he clearly should be spending the rest of his life in prison.

In my psychotherapy practice, I see a number of teen-agers, and if they have problems with behavior, and frankly, even if they don’t, I try to get them to consider consequences before taking actions.  Actions are going to have consequences, and if the consequences are considered before the actions are taken, there is a better chance that the actions will be appropriate.  It has been my experience that with young people, it is sometimes difficult to get them past the feeling of immediate gratification they anticipate will come their way from the behavior in which they want to indulge.  They don’t  think it through.  I believe that the concept of thinking through one’s behavior is an extraordinarily important one, and if done more often, would keep people from behaving in ways that they would regret.  This leads me back to Mr. Courtney, who says that he deeply and severely regrets his behavior.  BIG DEAL!  Who does that help?  It doesn’t bring back lives, it doesn’t help the relatives, and it is, in effect, meaningless.  For those who believe in the existence of heaven and hell, Robert R. Courtney is heading south.



Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.  Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.  He can be reached at charlieunger