ATLANTA – A well-regarded former Georgia medical examiner known for his work on high-profile cases is scheduled for Wednesday convicted for conspiring to to prescribe opioids in exchange for sex.
Dr. Joseph Burton of Milton pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs. The 73-year-old forensic pathologist is a former county medical examiner who handled the cases of seven Atlanta area of the provinces, including some of the region’s most notorious murders.
Prosecutors said in a court filing that Burton should be convicted and sentenced to serve 20 years in prison. Burton’s lawyer asked the judge to give him a sentence under the sentencing guidelines, arguing that his client suffers from a diminished mental capacity.
Burton and seven others were indicted on conspiracy charges in February. Prosecutors say Burton, who is a medical expert a consulting company, but not as patients, wrote more than 1500 recipes from July 2015 to August 2017 without a legitimate medical purpose.
Burton wrote most of the recipes from women in exchange for sexual favors, and he was aware that many of the recipients sold or exchanged the prescriptions and pills, prosecutors wrote.
Burton’s lawyer, Buddy Parker, wrote in a court filing that Burton’s actions are largely a result of a stroke he suffered in 2010 that damaged his brain, the frontal lobe. A doctor’s report filed in court says Burton suffers from mild vascular neurocognitive disorder, an impairment of his executive functions, including “taking the time to think before acting, resist temptations and to stay focused.”
Although he knew that what he did was wrong, he could not control his behavior, Parker wrote: “Burton’s moral compass has been destroyed by heart disease.”
The plaintiffs claim that the continuation of professional activity after the stroke to contradict his claims of diminished mental capacity. He continued to practice as a forensic pathologist, owning and operating his own company, and witnesses on complex matters in hundreds of cases, prosecutors wrote. He billed $45,000 per event or $500 per hour for his services.
Parker provided the court with a dozen character letters written by former district attorneys, lawyers, and others who worked with Burton. They describe him as brilliant, honest and professional, with much to say, he was one of the best experts that they have ever come across.
Most of the letter writers said that they could not reconcile the man they knew with the problem that landed him in court. While she said that she understood that he must be punished, many asked the judge for his extensive report of the public service in the account.
One of his greatest contributions was the recognition and diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome, work that led to the laws in Georgia and other states required autopsies when there is no clear cause of the death of a child, former DeKalb County district attorney J. Tom Morgan wrote.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter recalled that Burton’s testimony and expertise helped secure the conviction of Charles Thomas White III even though no body was found. Burton’s “walk-through of the work of the crime scene integral to convince the jury that the victim was dead and had died on the scene,” Porter wrote.
Burton also worked on the notorious Atlanta child murders case, the investigation of the murders of black boys and young men from 1979 to 1981.