The Eastern Shore doctor accused of contributing to the overdose death of former 3 Doors Down guitarist Matthew Roberts was acquitted of all criminal charges Monday afternoon.
Dr. Richard Snellgrove was indicted on 13 criminal charges in October 2016 — two months after Roberts overdosed and died in a Wisconsin hotel. Investigators found prescriptions Snellgrove had written on Roberts’ person and with his belongings at the hotel.
One of those was for time released patches of Fentanyl, the most potent opioid pain medication on the legal market. Prosecutors alleged Snellgrove knew Roberts had a history of drug abuse and was abusing drugs he’d prescribed for years but still continued to supply them.
The jury rejected that narrative, clearing Snellgrove of multiple charges related to violations of the Controlled Substances Act charges of healthcare fraud based on the insurance Roberts used to cover the cost of some of the prescriptions he was receiving.
Snellgrove’s attorney, Dennis Knizley, argued that federal prosecutors had only taken an interest in Snellgrove because of the notary Roberts had as a former member 3 Doors Down. Knizley said his death, while tragic, was not the fault a doctor who didn’t know he was being deceived.
He noted in his opening argument that Roberts had legitimate medical issues from a 2006 car wreck and had previously had surgeries on his wrists for carpal tunnel syndrome and a tendon disorder — something he told Snellgrove caused him pain when he was playing guitar.
“Richard Snellgrove is a good person and good doctor, and that played a large role in why he was acquitted by the jury in this case,” Knizley said. “Mr. Roberts, though he unfortunately passed away, was not being honest with his physician. He was getting and taking drugs off the street unrelated to his medical treatment unbenounced to Dr. Snellgrove, and the jury didn’t want to hold him respond for the death of a person who was routinely abusing drugs.”
The team who spearheaded Snellgrove’s prosecution was lead by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher J. Bodnar and Deborah Griffin — the same pair who successfully convicted Mobile pain doctors John Patrick Couch and Xiulu Ruan just last year.
Knizley, who represented Ruan in that 2017 trial, said there was a world of difference between the two cases — noting that Snellgrove, who is an internist, was being accused of improperly prescribing medicines to one person, not hundreds in order to generate revenue.
It wasn’t greed, the government contented, that motivated Snellgrove but rather the “celebrity status” of having Robert as a client. At trial, though, Knizley and his co-council Art Powell turned that theory on prosecutors, who they accused of pursuing the case because of that status.
“You’ll have to ask them what their motivation was. However, every drug overdose is not investigated by the federal government,” Knizley noted. “His notoriety must have played a large part in the government’s involvement in this case.”
Though the trial is behind him, Snellgrove is still facing a civil lawsuit filed by Roberts’ father that’s been on hold pending the outcome of his criminal case. The suit also names Rite Aid Corporation, which filled some of Matthew’s prescriptions, and others.
Knizley said the indictment, trial and acquittal didn’t affect the status of Snellgrove’s medical license, adding that “his practice continued to flourish.” Knizley said Snellgrove continued to see patients up until the day his trial began earlier this month and he’ll continue to see them now.
What was affected was Snellgrove’s license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prescribe controlled substances like opioid medications. During its investigation of Snellgrove, Knizley said the DEA pulled that license and there’s nothing requiring them to give it back.
“That’s an administrative license that’s awarded and issued by the DEA, and whether they will be inclined to allow him to once again prescribe controlled substances again would be in their decisions as a federal agency,” he added.