Ex-medical examiner gets 8 years in opioids case

ATLANTA (AP) – A highly regarded former Georgia medical examiner has been sentenced to serve eight years in prison for trading opioid prescriptions for sex in what former colleagues say is a sad and shocking turn for a man they knew as an ethical and dedicated public servant.

A forensic pathologist and former medical examiner, Joseph Burton, 73, handled cases from seven metro Atlanta counties, including some of the region’s most high-profile murders.

Burton and seven others were indicted on conspiracy charges in February. Prosecutors say Burton, who had a medical expert consulting business but didn’t see patients, wrote more than 1,500 prescriptions from July 2015 to August 2017 without a legitimate medical purpose.

Burton wrote many of the prescriptions to women in exchange for sexual favors, and he was aware that many of the recipients sold or bartered the prescriptions and pills, prosecutors said. Once he knew the Drug Enforcement Administration was investigating him, he tried to falsify records, prosecutors said.

Burton pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs. Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross for a 14-year sentence, while Burton’s attorney asked for less than four years.