Prosecutors and defense lawyers disagreed in opening arguments Friday about who is the victim in the federal criminal trial of an Alabama doctor accused of prescribing drugs that killed the former guitarist for rock band 3 Doors Down.
Prosecutors said 38-year-old guitarist Matthew Roberts, who was found dead in a Wisconsin hotel in 2016, was the victim. Al.com reported that they blame Dr. Richard Snellgrove, saying his criminal behavior is why the Fairhope physician is on trial for illegally prescribing drugs and helping defraud insurance companies.
But Snellgrove's lawyer said the doctor is the true victim. Dennis Knizley said prosecutors have unfairly targeted Snellgrove because Roberts was famous. Knizley said that Snellgrove's actions were reasonable and that it's not the physician's fault Roberts was abusing drugs.
Snellgrove faces up to 240 years in prison and up to $2.8 million in fines if convicted.
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Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Bodnar began by describing the morning in August 2016 when a hotel worker in West Bend, Wisconsin, went to check on a report of someone sleeping in a hallway. Instead, she found Roberts dead.
Roberts had risen to fame as lead guitarist of 3 Doors Down in the 1990s and 2000s. He and other founding members hailed from coastal Mississippi and enjoyed a string of hit singles, including "Kryptonite," which in 2001 was nominated for a Grammy award for best rock song.
Roberts left the group after its European tour in 2012 and checked into drug rehab. He'd gone to Wisconsin to perform at a benefit concert. Roberts was found to have multiple drugs in his system, including hydrocodone and the potent painkiller fentanyl. After a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation, prosecutors charge that Roberts' death was the direct result of criminal behavior by Snellgrove. They say Snellgrove catered to Roberts by readily giving him excessive medication, even though Snellgrove knew Roberts was addicted.
Bodnar told jurors that Snellgrove had given Roberts special treatment because he was "enamored by celebrity status" and was thrilled to be part of the musician's small inner circle.
Knizley said it was only Roberts' fame that motivated prosecutors to vault past any argument of negligent treatment or malpractice and go all the way to criminal prosecution
"This is a case that starts at the death, and then the federal government wants to work backward and see what they can find," Knizley said.
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Friday's opening arguments spelled out several key areas of contention:
Prosecutors allege that Snellgrove knew some prescriptions he wrote for Roberts' father, Darrell Roberts Sr., and his cousin, Jeremy Ryals, were "pass-throughs" that would go to Matt Roberts. Knizley said that any prescriptions he wrote for them were completely legitimate, and Snellgrove was not to blame if they diverted the drugs to Matt Roberts.
Roberts' family is suing Snellgrove and others in a civil lawsuit, and Darrell Roberts Sr. could be a key witness.
Prosecutors specifically allege that Roberts' death was caused by fentanyl that he obtained through a prescription that Snellgrove wrote on Aug. 18, 2016. Bodnar said that although there were other drugs in his system, and a coroner initially assigned "multiple drug intoxication" as the cause of death, testimony would show that his death could be attributed entirely to the fentanyl. Knizley disputed that argument and went on to say that if the fentanyl had been legitimately prescribed, then the point was moot.
The trial is expected to take two weeks or more.