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Life-Sentence Before Sentencing?

Dr. William E. Hurwitz, 59, will be sent to prison for life on April 14, even if U.S. District Judge Leonard D. Wexler doesn't give the McLean pain doctor a life sentence.

"He is facing 20 years to life. Even if I want to be a nice guy, I can't go under 20 years. With his age, that's a life sentence," Wexler said Wednesday, March 23, during a two-hour court hearing at U.S. District Court in Alexandria. More than 35 people who attended the hearing, mostly members of Hurwitz's family and supporters, gasped as Wexler made his comment.

Hurwitz's attorneys, Marvin Miller and Kenneth Wine, asked Wexler to release Hurwitz on bail, pending appeal, while his case is ultimately decided in higher courts.

"Anyone who listened to this trial … realizes it's a very complex and intricate legal case. This is not a typical drug case, this is not a typical drug dealer," Wine said. "This man's entire life has been devoted to helping people. … We ask [you] to grant bail pending appeal and to let Dr. Hurwitz go home."

U.S. Assistant Attorneys Eugene Rossi and Mark Lytle objected to Hurwitz's motion, referring to Linda Lalmond, a North Carolina resident who traveled to McLean after seeing Hurwitz featured on "60 Minutes." She died on the second day she was treated by Hurwitz.

"Linda Lalmond can not go home, she does not have that choice," Rossi said. "He should be detained."

Judges have discretion to release convicted defendants until their sentencing, Wexler said, if there is clear and convincing evidence that the person is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the community.

"I don't think he poses a danger to anyone," said Wexler, but the judge did call Hurwitz a flight risk because of the doctor's age and the sentence Wexler will be obligated to impose on Hurwitz in three weeks.

A jury convicted Hurwitz, who operated a high-profile practice treating patients with chronic pain from his McLean office, on 50 of 62 counts last December, including drug trafficking conspiracy and drug trafficking resulting in deaths and serious bodily injuries. The six-week trial included 76 witnesses — 63 for the prosecution — and more than 1,000 exhibits.

Hurwitz specialized in treating patients with severe, chronic pain with high doses of addictive opioid drugs including OxyContin.

Some of Hurwitz’s patients were illegally selling some of the hundreds of thousands of pills the doctor prescribed for them, and more than 15 of those drug dealers testified against Hurwitz at his trial. There was no evidence that Hurwitz profited from the illegal sales of drugs.

Wine and Miller maintain that Hurwitz practiced in "good faith" and they believe there are a number of issues that could be reversed in the appeal process.

"It is beyond comprehension how a doctor without criminal intent … acting in good faith belief that he or she is fulfilling a legitimate medical need, can be convicted of a crime," Wine said.