PALMER, Alaska – A scheduled change of plea and sentencing for the mother of Bristol Palin’s ex-fiance was delayed Friday while her attorney works out medical treatment for her behind bars.
Sherry Johnston, 42, was charged in December with six felony drug counts involving OxyContin, a strong prescription painkiller.
In a deal with prosecutors, Johnston on Friday planned to plead guilty to one count of possession with intent to deliver. Five other counts would be dropped under the deal.
Superior Court Judge Eric Smith was to sentence Johnston at the hearing.
However, defense attorney Rex Butler asked for a delay to continue specialized treatment if Johnston is imprisoned.
Johnston is the mother of 19-year-old Levi Johnston. Levi Johnston and 18-year-old Bristol Palin, the daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, broke off their engagement after the Dec. 27 birth of their son, Tripp.
Butler said Johnston suffers a rare condition involving scurvy and chronic pelvic pain from prior medical surgeries. He called the diminutive Johnston fragile. The pain requires Johnston to wear an implanted medication pump, he said.
When he announced in May that Johnston would change her plea, Butler said he would seek to have her confined to her home rather than prison. However, Butler said Friday that the charge carries a mandatory five-year prison term and three years is the Corrections Department limit for someone confined at home wearing an ankle bracelet.
“The continuity in the medical care is going to change and that’s going to be dangerous for her,” Butler said.
Palmer assistant district attorney Alison Collins agreed to the delay and said prison officials want additional information before they would be comfortable taking Johnston into their custody.
The case began in September when investigators intercepted a package containing 179 OxyContin pills. Suspects were arrested and they agreed to be informants.
According to an affidavit, Johnston set up a meeting with an informant at a store. Using $800 provided by investigators, the informant bought 10 pills of 80-milligram OxyContin.
A second purchase was made the following day, according to authorities, and the informant wore a hidden camera and a microphone. A third purchase occurred in late November. Police videotaped the meeting.
Investigators served a search warrant at Johnston’s home in December and arrested her.
Butler said the world looks at Johnston as some sort of a drug dealer, but if she could have gotten the medical care she needed, she would not be in the court system. He said she used poor judgment but is a poster child for universal health care.
“When a person is in pain and in need, quite frankly, none of us really know what we would do in a situation where we felt there was just no other way out.”
Judge Smith set the change of plea hearing and sentencing for Aug. 19.