TTU Law Expert Analyzes Butler's Charges and the HSC Speaks Out - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

12/2/03

TTU Law Expert Analyzes Butler's Charges and the HSC Speaks Out

Larry Cunningham Larry Cunningham
Dr. Roy Wilson Dr. Roy Wilson

One day after a Texas Tech researcher was found guilty of 47 federal charges, a Texas Tech Law expert breaks down his possible punishment. On Monday, a federal jury in Lubbock convicted Dr. Thomas Butler on 47 of 69 charges in a case related to a bio-terrorism scare. The sentencing is expected sometime early next year.

Dr Butler's punishment is ultimately up to federal judge Sam Cummings but first a United States probation officer will prepare a pre-sentence investigation. That investigation will determine the guidelines of Butler's possible punishment.

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"The officer will have interviewed Butler and his family, his coworkers, looked at his finances, talked to him about the offense, talked to government agents, witnesses, talk to Texas Tech University which is the big victim here for his fraud. And then apply those facts to the U.S. guidelines and come out with a range for Judge Cummings to apply," said Law Expert Larry Cunningham.

Cunningham, says Judge Sam Cummings will have complete discretion with in that range, but as for Cunningham's predictions. "Most likely several years in the penitentiary and a fine of some sort. The way the United States sentencing works is they look at the indictment and the verdict as a whole. And apply a certain formula based on the most serious offenses and then take into account the number of counts and the damage in terms of a dollar value. So it's not a matter of each individual count is going to get it's own independent sentence."

Cunningham, also a former prosecutor says Butler's worst charge was the fraud. "The juries verdict was clear in that they believe he defrauded Texas Tech University by having side deals or arrangements with the pharmaceutical companies. They found him guilty on nearly all of them."

Cunningham said he was surprised Butler was acquitted of lying to the FBI. "With Dr Butler admitting he had lied to the FBI and to Dr Jones earlier, usually when someone confesses that seals their fate, it's very hard to later back out of the confession and say that you had been coerced or framed. It's important to realize the verdict does not mean the jury believed he was innocent. Rather it can be interpreted that the jury simply believed there was insufficient evidence to convict him of these very serious charges."

Cunningham expects this verdict to be a wake up call to the scientific community as far as how times have changed with terrorist threats. He also says this verdict is reassuring to the public that the Government took this fraud case seriously. The defense does plan to appeal.

Texas Tech, meanwhile, has been under a gag order since Butler was accused. On Tuesday they spoke out on the charges, the effects and what's next. Doctor Roy Wilson, President of the Health Sciences Center in his own words.

"The fact that he was found guilty in the areas that Texas Tech was concerned I think bolsters our case in terms of why we were investigating him from the very beginning. We did start dismissal proceedings against Dr Butler some time ago. The proceedings are made up of two parts one is mediation and the other is a hearing. The mediation by his peers was not successful so at that point it goes to a hearing. We decided to postpone the hearing until after the trial," said Dr. Roy Wilson, TTUHSC President.

Would you hire someone with a record like this? we asked, "Would I? No", Dr.Wilson said.

The date of the hearing will be determined next week. Doctor Wilson says the University may decide to wait until after doctor Butler's sentencing.

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