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SPRINGFIELD — A former Taylorville doctor's good works and reputation, combined with his chronic health problems, persuaded a Sangamon County judge to be lenient Thursday and spare the doctor any prison time for possessing $4,000 worth of cocaine — his second felony conviction since 2015.

"It's unfortunate that someone with such a revered reputation in the community fell this far," Sangamon County Associate Judge Brian Otwell said before sentencing Vernon Klinefelter to four years of probation after he pleaded guilty.

But Otwell said, "This is not a case of impulsive action."

The judge said he was impressed by letters asking for mercy that were submitted by 24 different family members, friends and patients of Klinefelter, 66.

Assistant State's Attorney Brian Shaw requested a four-year prison sentence.

Shaw said the punishment was necessary to deter others from possessing illegal drugs and because Klinefelter, as a prominent medical professional, should be held to a high standard of conduct.

Defense attorney Daniel Noll asked the judge for supervised release and no prison time for his client. Noll said after the court hearing that he was pleased with the sentence.

"I don't believe incarceration would have been appropriate given his mental and physical condition and his age and other physical factors," Noll said.

Noll told the judge Klinefelter might not survive a prison term because of health problems, including early stage dementia, a seizure disorder and back problems, all requiring close monitoring and assistance.

Otwell said that a four-year sentence might be a "life sentence" for Klinefelter.

The judge said sending Klinefelter to prison wouldn't deter others from committing drug-related crimes. Otwell ordered Klinefelter to pay about $6,000 in fines and gave him three years to pay.

Shaw wouldn't comment on the sentence after the court hearing. State's Attorney John Milhiser couldn't be reached for comment.

Klinefelter, along with his wife, nurse practitioner Geraldine Klinefelter, were sentenced in May 2015 to three years of probation, and home confinement for the first year, after they were convicted of Social Security Disability fraud in an April 2014 bench trial in Springfield's U.S. District Court.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mills found the couple guilty of identical felony counts of wire fraud, concealment or failure to disclose information and making a false statement.

Federal prosecutors said Vernon Klinefelter illegally received $104,194 in SSDI benefits from June 2003 through January 2008. Klinefelter, a family physician who completed a residency through Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, was treating patients during that time as he and his wife operated the former Abundant Life Medical Clinic in Taylorville.

A presentencing report from federal officials in 2015 said a three-year prison term for the couple would have been appropriate. But Mills said his sentence of probation, based on agreements and sentencing recommendations from federal prosecutors and the Klinefelters, was justified.

Mills cited the couple's many years of professional service in the Taylorville area and 78 letters from the couple's friends, family, colleagues and patients.

The Klinefelters were first charged by a federal grand jury in 2012. Vernon Klinefelter's medical license was suspended by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation in 2013 after a lawyer defending him in the federal case raised concerns about his mental health.

Klinefelter's wife retained her nursing license until October 2015, when the federal conviction prompted state regulators to suspend it.

The cocaine possession charge against Vernon Klinefelter was filed in connection with an October 2014 incident at Casey's General Store in Pawnee. Pawnee police were called to the Casey's when Klinefelter was free on bond while the federal case was pending.

Police said Klinefelter, who had urinated on himself, emerged from a Casey's restroom appearing confused and speaking quickly. Inside Klinefelter's 2011 Mercedes, which was parked out front and left running, police found almost 37 grams of cocaine in the trunk and two grams near the driver's seat.

Police also found five bloody napkins, 22 $100 bills and two gold coins in the car.

Police said they believe Klinefelter was driving under the influence of cocaine.

He later was charged with felony cocaine possession. Another felony cocaine possession charge was dropped. It's unclear whether a misdemeanor DUI charge will be dropped.

The Sangamon County charges resulted in Klinefelter's federal bond being revoked and the doctor spending 171 days in the Macon and Sangamon county jails.

Shaw said Klinefelter told Pawnee police in 2014 that he was earning $17,000 per month, even though Geraldine Klinefelter testified Thursday that her husband "almost never left the house" that year and spent many days in bed.

She said she saw her husband use cocaine only once and had no idea how he was able to obtain what Shaw called "an obscene amount of cocaine."

Shaw asked her, "Would the magic cocaine fairy stop by?"

Rather than a situation involving bad judgment, as Noll argued, Shaw said Klinefelter was putting the public and himself in danger by using cocaine and allegedly driving while under the influence of the drug.

"It was an intentional act," Shaw said. "It was recklessness."

Jonathan Hess, a clinical psychologist who was called by Noll as a witness for Klinefelter, testified that Klinefelter suffered a "substantial decline" in mental functioning in summer 2003.

The decline may have been caused by a seizure, Hess said. Klinefelter still held an active medical license to practice at that time.

"He couldn't do simple arithmetic," Hess said.

Eventually, Hess said, Klinefelter "improved substantially — to an average level."

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