DALLAS - DALLAS -- Life in prison.
Those were the words that Christopher Duntsch never wanted to hear. And the words that his patients and their families desperately wanted to hear.
The one-time neurosurgeon was sentenced by the 12-member jury to spend the remainder of his life behind bars Monday afternoon.
“This was a voice for Kellie,” said Don Martin, whose wife bled to death after one of those botched surgeries in 2012.
His daughter, Caitlin Martin-Linduff, was relieved and tearful to know Duntsch will never hurt anyone again.
“I’m just so grateful from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “This will not bring my mother back, but it is some sense of justice for the all the families, for all of the victims.”
Duntsch, 44, is the first surgeon known to be sentenced to prison for a botched surgery. He was convicted of injury to an elderly person in the 2012 surgery on Mary Efurd that put her in a wheelchair.
Duntsch was once an upcoming neurosurgeon. He did not make his mark, just not the one that he expected.
“This defendant single-handedly ruined their lives, and he gave each of them a life of pain,” prosecutor Michelle Shughart told jurors in closing statements.
For weeks, jurors heard the accounts of patients who had been maimed or paralyzed in horrifically bungled surgeries. Kellie Martin and Floella Brown died. They also heard from doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who were shocked by what they saw Duntsch do during and after those surgeries.
“So why didn’t he stop?” Shughart said. “Because of greed. Because he owed people a lot of money. He wanted to live the high life and a neurosurgeon makes big bucks. Why didn’t he stop? Because he had no conscience. He doesn’t care what he has left in his wake.”
Jurors heard from Duntsch’s dad, mother, brother and a family friend who sought to appeal to the sympathies of the jury.
Duntsch grew up in a middle-class family. His mom was a teacher. His dad is a physical therapist. He was the eldest of four.
They described him as the bright, precocious little boy who had taken care of a sick bird and loved dogs. They showed photos of him as a baby, as a toddler, and as a boy getting a soccer ball for Christmas. They talked about how he doted on his two little boys.
His father, Don Duntsch, spoke with pride about how his son had once been one of the top authorities on stem cells and had done ground-breaking cancer research.
He said his son called him upset after several of the botched surgeries. He has no doubt that his son cared about his patients.
In the end, he blamed pride for his son’s downfall.
“I think what happened is that as things began to fall apart, the only thing he knew was to try harder,” Don Duntsch said.
His younger brother, Nathan, said he had spoken to Duntsch’s friend and former employee, Jerry Summers, who was left a quadriplegic after one of those botched surgeries. He said that Summers had broken down in to “uncontrolled crying and said, ‘I know your brother would never do this to me on purpose.’”
His father says he’s a humbled man.
“He’s been devastated,” Don Duntsch said. “He has nothing. He’s lost everything.”
Melinda Lehmann, his defense attorney, said Duntsch was a scapegoat for a medical establishment that just kept hiring him and putting him in operating rooms.
“Is it right for him go to away, to be thrown away when all of them profited?” she said of the hospitals that hired him. “They all have blood on their hands.”
The jury came back with their verdict in about an hour.
For Mary Efurd, it was sweet justice for the man who ruined her life.
“This is what I wanted,” she said. “This what I’ve waited for four and half years.”
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