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Man refuses plea deal, gets 20-year sentence

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

A Paducah man who declined a plea agreement for 10 years for selling blank prescription forms was found guilty Tuesday in McCracken Circuit Court and sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison.

Derek C. Early, 37, was indicted by a McCracken County grand jury on five counts of trafficking in prescription blanks for controlled substances. He was also accused of being a persistent felony offender.

Detective John Tolliver, who investigates prescription drug crimes with the Paducah Police Department, said an acquaintance of Early's was forging blank prescription pads from her employer, and that Early was selling the completed prescription blanks.

McCracken County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond McGee offered Early a deal through which Early would plead guilty and be sentenced to 10 years in prison. Early refused, while the four other defendants in the case pleaded guilty, McGee said.

McGee added that over the past year and a half, Tolliver has placed an emphasis on prosecuting prescription fraud crimes. Since then, more than 30 felony cases have been prosecuted, but Early - who has two prior trafficking convictions - is the first to have gone to trial, he said.

"We were interested in what a jury would do. This was really a test case for us," McGee said.

A jury heard the case Monday in Judge Craig Clymer's circuit courtroom. The jury convicted Early on all counts and recommended a five-year sentence on each of the offenses related to prescriptions and a 20-year sentence on the first-degree persistent felony offender charge.

"We think we've put a dent in the prescription drug problem," McGee said. "It's a huge problem here. It's a bigger problem than methamphetamine and cocaine combined."

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