Plano Neurosurgeon Sentenced to Life for Maiming Patients

The doctor's lawyers argued he wasn't a criminal — just a lousy surgeon

A Dallas jury sentenced former Plano neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch to life in prison Monday after hearing evidence that he deliberately maimed patients who turned to him with back problems.

The jury convicted 45-year-old Duntsch last week of first-degree felony injury to an elderly person for just one of the cases.

Victim Mary Efurd, 74, traveled to court in her wheelchair. She lost the use of one leg and said medical equipment had been left in her body in her surgery.

"Everything is different now," Efurd said. "I need this for meals, transportation, housekeeping."

In the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors heard about the pain and misery suffered by other patients in a year-old series of botched surgeries that happened in 2012 and 2013.

In a closing statement, prosecutor Michelle Shughart told the jury Duntsch used drugs and alcohol and kept operating on patients even as complaints piled up against him.

"Why didn't he stop? Because of greed, because he owed people a lot of money. He wanted to live the high life. Neurosurgeons get the big bucks. Why didn't he stop? Because he had no conscience," Shughart said.

The doctor's lawyers argued he wasn't a criminal, just a lousy surgeon.

Defense Attorney Melinda Lehmann told jurors to resist the pressure from patients and families gathered in the courtroom.

"That is not justice. Justice means you use logic and restraint and a cool head to decide what happens to a man's life," Lehmann said.

In her closing statement, Lehmann asked why other medical professionals who worked beside Duntsch are not facing prison, too.

"He couldn't have done it without all these hospitals, all these other doctors," she said.

Family Photo / NBC 5
Kellie Martin

Caitlin Martin's mother Kellie Martin died after surgery.

"I'm just so grateful from the bottom of my heart," she said. "This will not bring my mother back, but it's some sense of justice for all the people in this, for all the victims."

District Attorney Faith Johnson praised the prosecutors and said unprecedented cooperation between police and medical professionals helped bring this result.

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Efurd said she hopes it sends a message to other medical professionals about the obligation to patients.

"You better be watching your P's and Q's," she said. "I don't think something like this will be allowed to happen again."

Duntsch has been in jail since his 2015 arrest.

"This is a voice for Kellie," said her husband, Don Martin. "And we're just so thankful, and hopefully we can move on."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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