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Brigham City doctor sentenced to 20 years in prison

SALT LAKE CITY — Saying God will vindicate him, Dewey C. MacKay shouldered little blame for his crimes and took no responsibility for dispensing painkillers relating to the death of one of his patients.

"I am not a criminal, and I am not a drug dealer," the doctor said Monday in U.S. District Court.

Judge Dee Benson reluctantly sentenced MacKay to 20 years in prison for illegally prescribing pills from his small Brigham City pain management clinic.

Benson said he had no choice but to impose the minimum mandatory term as federal law requires. He refused to impose the restitution federal prosecutors sought for the victims, including nearly $700,000 for the dead man's family.

"The law sucks," MacKay told teary-eyed friends and family as he left the courtroom. "He had no choice going in. We knew that."

Benson called the sentence harsh and unjust.

"It's too long," he said. "That does not in any way say that I condone lawbreaking or that I in any way disagree with the jury's conscientious verdict. But it's too long."

MacKay was convicted in August of 37 counts of illegally dispensing painkillers, including two that resulted in the death of 55-year-old David Wirick; and three counts of using a communication device in a drug trafficking offense. The jury acquitted him of 44 other counts.

Assistant U.S. attorney Michael Kennedy agreed with Benson that the sentence is harsh, but he said it is justified by the pain MacKay caused.

"We have yet to hear one word from Dr. MacKay accepting one bit of responsibility, one bit of remorse for anything that has happened," Kennedy said.

There were hundreds of victims, he said, but prosecutors focused on 12, some of whom became addicted to pain pills after become MacKay's patients.

"We could have brought a 1,000-count or more indictment," Kennedy said.

The 64-year-old doctor said he looks forward to the day God judges him.

"I know in that great day I will be vindicated of these terrible accusations and charges," he said. "He will make right for all that has gone wrong here."

Furthermore, he said those who prosecuted and testified against him will be held accountable for what they have done.

MacKay apologized to the families of the victims, but he said he was not responsible for Wirick's death. He said patients "duped" him into prescribing them painkillers because he was naive and trusting. He described himself as a kind and compassionate doctor.

"I believe the jury tried their best," MacKay said. "I am bewildered at their verdict. I know with all my heart they were mistaken in their verdict. … I believe the jury chose not to like me.

"I do not believe David Wirick died from his medications. I believe he died of pneumonia," he said.

Wirick, an ATK mechanical engineer with chronic back problems, overdosed on Lortab and Percocet in May 2006, three days after receiving prescriptions from MacKay. His exact cause of death, however, was the subject of conjecture during the trial.

His son Brett Wirick called the sentence harsh.

"(But) we were most disappointed that he never took any accountability for what he did and blamed the victims," he said.

Brett Wirck said he hopes someday to find out what MacKay thinks the victims must account for.

"I was shocked by that announcement that we have to pay for what's been said when we meet our maker," he said.

MacKay's attorney Peter Stirba said his client suffers from many health problems — including diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, gout and cirrhosis of the liver — and will die in prison.

"We believe a 20-years sentence in this case is essentially a death sentence for Dr. MacKay," Stirba told the judge.

MacKay intends to appeal his conviction, the attorney said. His defense team filed a motion to keep the doctor out of prison pending the appeal, arguing he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Benson ordered MacKay to report to a yet-to-be determined federal penitentiary Feb. 1, but will likely hear arguments on the motion before then.

"This case is not going to be over for quite a while," said Michael Hansen, one of MacKay's defense lawyers.

Rep. Rob Bishop R-Utah, and Utah Senate Assistant Majority Whip Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, were among 244 people who wrote to the court vouching for MacKay's character.

The letters praise MacKay's community, professional and church work. He served in the military, served as an LDS Church bishop, raised money for cancer research and volunteered on the Box Elder County Search and Rescue scuba team.

MacKay was Brigham City's only orthopedic surgeon for many years. He changed his practice to pain management when poor health prevented him from doing surgery.

Prosecutors acknowledged the letters show MacKay did much good but demonstrate little or no firsthand knowledge of his medical practice or inappropriate relationship with one of his female patients that came out in court.

"In short, the defendant was leading a double life with his crimes largely hidden from his present supporters," Kennedy wrote. "Charitable deeds in the community cannot negate the effect of the serious offenses committed by the defendant."

MacKay's practice amounted to asking patients what drugs they wanted and writing prescriptions for them, prosecutors said. No amount of letters from friends, congressmen or state senators can change that, Kennedy said.

The doctor wrote 20,612 prescriptions for hydrocodone products from January 2005 to October 2009, totaling more than 1.9 million pills. He had the highest volume of prescriptions for hydrocodone in the state five years in a row.

MacKay said his conviction will have a chilling effect on other doctors who want to help patients manage chronic pain. "That is not only a tragedy, it is unconscionable."

U.S. Attorney David Barlow said he believes the overwhelming majority of Utah doctors conduct their practices according to the law.

"And that wasn't the case here," Barlow said.

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