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Ex-physician gets six-year sentence in drugs-sex case

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

By ERIC BERNSEE

Editor

Characterized by the prosecution as a real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a former Roachdale physician has been sentenced to six years in prison for unlawfully dispensing narcotics to his patients -- sometimes in exchange for sexual favors.

Ray D. Howell, 58, was sentenced Monday afternoon to four years to be served in the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) followed by two years suspended and probation imposed by Putnam Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley.

Despite defense attorney Dennis Zahn's efforts to show Howell has suffered from frontotemporal dementia, a progressive neurological disorder caused by degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain, Judge Headley decided the aggravating factors enumerated by the prosecution outweighed the mitigating factors the defense presented in the hearing.

(Photo)
"Your lawyer makes a passionate plea for you, that's for sure," Headley told Howell, "but the problem is you placed these peoples' lives in your hands.

"You caused drug addictions to people," the judge continued, noting that one patient/victim was pregnant and gave birth to a child with drug addiction and another was so strung out on narcotics she "lost her family for a while" and entered into an illicit affair with Howell.

"You caused all these problems for these people. And," he added, "it's reasonable to believe you might have caused the death of one young man."

A Connersville woman, Linda Showalter testified to that effect Monday, appearing in court clutching a photo of her son, Rex Showalter, who died in February 2010.

Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter told the court Showalter died after overdosing on Methadone, Xanax and Oxycodone and aspirating on his own vomit.

His mother took exception to that characterization.

"He didn't overdose," she stressed. "He took the prescriptions he (Howell) prescribed for him. He trusted him."

Also testifying for the prosecution was a Hagerstown woman whose story followed "a common theme" shared by several patients interviewed by Gary Wisenand, the principal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigator on the case.

Providing tearful testimony, the woman described a relationship that began when Dr. Howell treated her for migraines and high blood pressure.

"He started by giving me hugs," she said, adding that physical nature of the relationship escalated right along with the dosage of her meds.

She ended up losing her job after being drug tested and having a drug she never knew she took show up in her system. In the meantime, she said Dr. Howell was "calling on the phone all the time," suggesting he could help relieve her stress.

"We ended up in a hotel room," she said between sobs. "He called it 'our sessions,' not a relationship. And at one point he said we were spiritually married, which he said was more important than a piece of paper."

She ended up losing her job, losing her family and losing her self-respect, the Fayette County woman testified.

Wisenand said all that was a familiar storyline among patients of Dr. Howell.

"Hugs progressed to back rubs and then to butt rubs and then him suggesting masturbation to relieve anxiety. He would try to kiss them, and if allowed to go further, it would end up in situations of oral sex or sexual intercourse," the DEA investigator added.

The defense tried to tie those situations to Howell's disease, which one doctor's report suggested began to manifest itself six to eight years ago.

"Dr. Howell is a different person today than he was 10 years ago," Zahn, his Indianapolis attorney, stressed. "Back then he was a small-town doc, conscientious, community-minded, involved in his church and his Bible studies."

He noted that Howell even took time away from his practice to go to Haiti 17 times on humanitarian visits.

"He was a man who took pride in his reputation," Zahn said. "But several years ago that began to change" and Howell began to exhibit some "rather odd behavior."

Zahn said Howell became burdened by obsessions and a lack of social judgment.

He would drink gallons of water a day and urged others to do so too. He began to neglect his personal hygiene and started repeating words and phrases over and over, the attorney told the court.

Today Howell can no longer work or drive a car and requires supervision on a daily basis, Zahn said.

Dressed in a lime green shirt with striped tie and dark slacks, Howell made only one brief comment at the 45-minute hearing. He told the court his illness progressed to the point that his staff took notice and "cornered" him, telling the doctor they thought he "had a problem."

A letter to the court from his wife, Linda Howell, stressed that he was not the evil person people think he is, and that his "mental illness has taken over his ability to be rational."

"Dr. Howell won't make it in a penitentiary," Zahn said, asking the court to consider a period of probation or Community Corrections for the former physician.

"Dr. Howell's not going anywhere," Zahn added. "He's essentially a prisoner now. He cannot go out. He must have supervision."

Prosecutor Bookwalter, however, took issue with the idea of blaming all Howell's actions on his mental state.

"We know he was having sex with a patient and drugging her up in 1991," he said, responding to the 6-8 year timeframe for the supposed effects of Howell's dementia.

"We have a Jekyll and Hyde here," Bookwalter added. "When he goes to that medical office, he becomes a different animal. Mr. Zahn says he forgets things but you know what he keeps straight -- the lies.

"He's able to go to Connersville and have a relationship (with a patient there) and keep all that from his staff."

Judge Headley pronounced sentence, saying he believed "the aggravators clearly outweigh the mitigators."

He ordered Howell to report to the Putnam County Jail by noon Friday for transport to a DOC facility.

Prosecutor Bookwalter seemed relieved by the outcome.

"In my job I fight drug dealing every day in Putnam County," he said. "But who would think that the biggest drug dealer we have was a doctor?"

As part of the plea agreement, Dr. Howell, who operated Tri-County Family Medical Clinic in Roachdale for more than 20 years, may never reapply for his medical license (currently suspended) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration "during his natural lifetime."

As part of the agreement, Howell pled guilty to:

-- Count I, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, a Class D felony, dispensing Adipex to an Indiana State Police undercover officer.

-- Count V, unlawful dispensation of a controlled substance, Oxycodone, in excessive amounts to a patient.

-- Count VI, Unlawful dispensation of a controlled substance, Clonazepam, in excessive amounts to a patient, including its use to facilitate sexual encounters.

-- Count XII, Unlawful dispensation of a controlled substance, Oxycodone, Methadone and/or Alprazolam to a patient in excessive amounts.

-- Count XIII, Furnishing false or fraudulent information or knowingly omitting information from a controlled substance inventory.

In exchange for the five guilty pleas from Howell, the state agreed to dismiss 10 other charges against him.

The doctor's arrest last Oct. 18 culminated a more than two-year investigation by local, state and federal authorities.

The investigation revealed Howell overprescribed or unnecessarily prescribed narcotics that included Oxycodone, Methadone, Adipex, Clonazepam, Lortab, Vicodin, Alprazolam, Xanax, Percocet and Hydrocodone.

The probe also yielded reports of several alleged sexual encounters with a number of female patients to whom he had reportedly prescribed excessive doses of controlled substances.


Comments
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The headline is deceptive. He really only got 4 years. The court system just slapped this man's victims in the face!

-- Posted by just1me on Wed, Aug 15, 2012, at 10:06 AM

Just1me,

I totally agree. Not enough time at all!

-- Posted by chicken on Wed, Aug 15, 2012, at 1:05 PM

Dr.Howell's patients sought him out. They came all the way from Connersville and Hagerstown. Why? Because they wanted what he could give them and they kept coming. Those of us here in Roachdale didn't go to him anymore because we knew there was a problem. His lawyer is right--Bookwalter is WRONG.

-- Posted by oldlady on Wed, Aug 15, 2012, at 7:30 PM

Oldlady, how do you know those women were legally punished too?

-- Posted by just1me on Thu, Aug 16, 2012, at 8:45 AM

*were NOT

-- Posted by just1me on Thu, Aug 16, 2012, at 8:46 AM

@oldlady....addicts will travel miles to get their fix. A medical professional should recognize this and turn them away. Dr. Howell welcomed them with out stretched arms and enabled them while gaining his own gratification in the process. Bookwalter is absolutely right.

-- Posted by kbmom on Thu, Aug 16, 2012, at 10:11 AM

I agree Bookwalter should know what a drug dealer is.Thats for sure.

-- Posted by stevied4u13 on Thu, Aug 16, 2012, at 12:35 PM

Wish I could "like" kbmom's post!

-- Posted by just1me on Thu, Aug 16, 2012, at 11:21 PM

Yes his punishment is way to light but at least it is something. My view is this. If you look at the evidence, his attorney is saying the frontal lobe only started 8 years ago but this type of behavior was going on longer than that. In the time I worked there he was never "cornered". We talked to him during lunch or staff meetings with no patients present. Both attorneys were/are aware we did this. He knew what he was doing and did not care. Using a mental disorder is a pathetic attempt for him to think he did nothing wrong. Yes he only got 4 years but the real time of judgement will come and he will have to pay for all his lies/deceptions.

-- Posted by Notadaydreamer on Thu, Aug 16, 2012, at 11:28 PM

Absolutely agree with kbmom..he is a medical professional. He enabled drug addicts and then took advantage of them. 6 years is not enough time. But what do you expect? It's Putnam County, they let thiefs, child molesters, and deadbeat parents go with little to no punishment. As far as I'm concerned, Putnam County judicial system is a joke.

-- Posted by putnammom on Sat, Aug 18, 2012, at 7:51 PM

My daughter has been in jail now for some time because of going to him. he had her so hooked on 8 different drugs (and the amount he had her on on each perscription) that when he got arrested she sought out stuff from people she never even hung around before in her life. she has lost her children, job, and her home. he should of got life. he has ruined so many. the only problem she had when she went to him was high blood pressure and depression. way to go doc!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-- Posted by sweetwinkins on Wed, Aug 22, 2012, at 11:31 AM

6 years do 3-if he is on good behavior with no conduct reports he only do 3

-- Posted by bam on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 7:54 PM

I'm so sorry sweetwinkins. He should've had a much longer sentence. He ruined so many lives. I'm sorry about your daughter. I'll pray for her.

-- Posted by just1me on Thu, Oct 11, 2012, at 3:00 PM


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