- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A federal judge threw out on Monday some convictions against a former Kansas doctor and his wife accused of a moneymaking conspiracy at a pain clinic linked to 68 overdose deaths.

But the ruling by U.S. District Judge Monti Belot does not end the legal troubles for Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, because the bulk of the case against them remains.

The Haysville couple was convicted in 2010 of conspiracy to commit health care fraud resulting in those deaths, unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering at a Haysville clinic the government portrayed as a “pill mill.” Schneider was sentenced to 30 years, while his wife was sentenced to 33 years.

A federal appeals court has already agreed with their convictions and sentences, and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear their case.

But what had been a long-shot motion asking the trial judge for a new trial due to ineffective legal counsel gained added momentum in the wake of the high court’s ruling in a separate case in January 2014. In that case, the high court ruled the victim’s drug use had to be the actual cause of death - not merely a contributing factor - for convictions under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Belot revisited the Schneider case in light of that decision, and appointed new defense lawyers to argue its impact on the Kansas case.

On Monday, Belot handed down a 44-page ruling for each of the couple that overturned their convictions on six major counts subject to the longest sentences. The judge also struck down the sentence that he himself had previously imposed for conspiracy to commit health care fraud resulting in those 68 deaths.

The U.S. attorney’s office said it would reserve its comment for the courtroom, and defense attorney Jim Pratt said he had not had a chance to read Belot’s ruling when contacted shortly after it came down.

It is unclear whether federal prosecutors will decide to appeal or will choose to retry the Schneiders on those six overturned convictions, given that the bulk of the counts against them were confirmed. A jury deliberated for seven days before convicting the doctor on 19 counts, and his wife on 32 counts following a seven-week trial. At least one of the remaining counts still carries a mandatory 20-year prison sentence.

The judge said in his decision that he set aside the couple’s sentences on the conspiracy count because those sentences were based on the jury findings in the counts that had been overturned, and he noted the Schneiders would need to be resentenced on that count.

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