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Michael Jackson / Conrad Murray in the news > Doctor's trial spotlights Michael Jackson's lifestyle

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20 Sep 2011



Doctor's trial spotlights Michael Jackson's lifestyle


LOS ANGELES – Entertainer Michael Jackson's shocking death in June 2009 reverberated worldwide as fans mourned the talented "King of Pop."

  • Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's doctor, arrives at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2010, to face charges of involuntary manslaughter in the singer's death in Los Angeles.

    By Jason Redmond, AP

    Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's doctor, arrives at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2010, to face charges of involuntary manslaughter in the singer's death in Los Angeles.

By Jason Redmond, AP

Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's doctor, arrives at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2010, to face charges of involuntary manslaughter in the singer's death in Los Angeles.

Websites crashed from demand for details about the drug overdose that killed Jackson at his rented mansion. An all-star July memorial service drew huge TV audiences. A documentary film showing the 50-year-old music man's last rehearsals for a sold-out comeback concert tour earned $260 million.

Now the reverberations are reaching the halls of justice. In the aging courthouse where a jury acquitted O.J. Simpson of murder in 1995, lawyers began selecting jurors Sept. 8 in the criminal trial of Jackson's personal physician, cardiologist Conrad Murray. Opening statements are set for Sept. 27.

Murray has pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. It is California's least serious degree of homicide, not requiring intent to do bodily harm. If convicted, Murray would face up to four years in prison.

The case raises the rare issue of a doctor's criminal accountability when a patient dies under his care. And like Jackson's trial in 2005 on charges of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy — jurors declared him not guilty — the case will spotlight the privileged world of a superstar.

By Carl De Souza, AFP/Getty Images

Michael Jackson announced a series of comeback concerts in London on March 5, 2009.

Prosecutor David Walgren says Murray, 58, caused Jackson's death through "negligent and reckless acts" — primarily an "extreme deviation" from medical-quality standards in using the operating-room anesthetic propofol to treat insomnia.

Murray has said he employed the powerful drug at the famous insomniac's repeated requests, as other doctors before him had done.

Attorneys for Murray, a tall, dashing man born in theWest Indian island nation of Grenada, have said Jackson was so frantic for sleep that he drank or injected a fatal dose of propofol while the doctor was briefly away from the singer's bedroom.

Implying that death was self-inflicted though conceivably accidental, defense attorney Ed Chernoff told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor on April 6: "The crux of the defense is going to be that Michael Jackson engaged in a desperate act and took desperate measures that caused his death."

The opposing sides will present contrasting visions of Jackson in the hours before he was stricken.

In the prosecution's telling, Jackson was vital and optimistic, committed to showing doubters he was physically strong enough to weather his first tour since 1997. To the defense, he was sickly, drug-addicted and irresponsible, keeping Murray in the dark about medications that other doctors had prescribed.

"Michael is going to be on trial," says Brian Oxman, the lawyer representing Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, in a civil lawsuit against Murray that seeks millions of dollars in damages.

For months, another area of dispute was whether financial pressures facing Michael Jackson and Conrad Murray in their separate lives motivated each man's actions. The singer, with his once-extensive business empire shaky, was entangled in 38 lawsuits. Murray was under siege from creditors, including women seeking child support.

But when Judge Pastor in April ruled out money issues as an irrelevant "battle of accountants," Murray's defenders suffered a blow to their main argument: that Jackson might have taken his own life 18 days before the first London concert because he feared failing in the financially critical performances.

Pastor also barred prosecutors from arguing that money worries caused Murray to abandon ethics and do anything Jackson asked. Murray, for example, told police detectives that at Jackson's request for secrecy, he didn't keep written records of his treatments.

Dr. Arnold Klein,Michael Jackson's longtime dermatologist

By Tammie Arroyo, AP

Murray's attorneys still could argue that Jackson was so determined to sleep that he took a reckless risk with propofol.

They blame another doctor, Arnold Klein, Jackson's longtime dermatologist, alleging he got Jackson addicted to the painkiller Demerol. And they blame the concert-tour promoter, AEG Live. They claim the company reneged on promises to provide Murray with heart-resuscitation equipment and a nurse when he agreed to a $150,000-a-month contract to help get Jackson through the tour.

Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson, the primary beneficiary of Jackson's estate along with his three children, is suing AEG Live on this contention.

During a recent court session, Pastor sounded appalled by Murray's decision not to keep records. "I don't know if my medical doctor would honor my request not to write medical records," the judge said. "I think my medical doctor would say, 'Go elsewhere.'"

By Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images

Michael Jackson fans gathered outside Los Angeles Superior Court before the arrival of Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray on April 5, 2010.

Lurid moments ahead

Nearly two years after Jackson's death, the innovative, one-gloved "moonwalk" dancer who wrote and sang hits including Thriller, Billie Jean and Beat It remains a media lure.

People v. Conrad Murray will be televised and streamed on the Internet. Court officials granted seats to celebrity news outlets including Access Hollywood, Radar Onlineand TMZ.com.

The judge estimates the trial will take five weeks. Trial-watchers looking for lurid moments should find plenty. Some evidence likely to be introduced:

•A full-body autopsy photo of Jackson, genital area blocked.

•Testimony by Jackson's son Prince, 14, and daughter, Paris, 13, as witnesses to Murray's care and to their father's death. "This is going to be extremely painful," Oxman says.

Jackson's parents and many of his five brothers and three sisters are likely to attend proceedings daily, as they did at his child-molestation trial in Santa Maria, Calif.

•Poignant video clips from Michael Jackson's This Is It, the posthumous documentary, depicting Jackson singing and dancing in rehearsals on June 23 and 24, 2009. He died June 25. Walgren says the images will support choreographer Kenny Ortega's testimony that Jackson was "excited and energetic." Defense lawyers say they will focus on images showing Jackson looking sickly.

•Appearances by three women who had ongoing extramarital relationships with the married Murray. The prosecution accuses Murray of violating doctor-patient confidentiality by "boasting" to women that he was treating Jackson.

Finding a jury

At the outset, seating 12 jurors and six alternates who haven't made up their minds about the high-profile case may prove tough.

"There's going to be a lot of people that have already formed opinions as to likes and dislikes of the parties," says J. Michael Flanagan, one of Murray's three attorneys.

In part, "it comes down very importantly to who these jurors are," says Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles. Some could be Jackson fans who escape detection in screening. And "believe it or not, there are some people who are not Michael Jackson fans, and would say he brought this upon himself," she says.

Few have been more emotionally involved in the case than a devoted corps of Jackson fans who fill public seats at hearings, glaring at Murray and trading conspiracy theories. "We'll come here all day long to make his life miserable," says Erin Jacobs, 43, a Yorba Linda, Calif., travel agent.

These devotees are equally upset with Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley for not charging the defendant with murder.

"I believe Conrad Murray was a hit man — a medical hit man," says Carolyn Owens-Horton, 50, a Los Angeles teacher and video maker.

When patients die, doctors sometimes are sued for malpractice. But few have been arraigned for homicide when they didn't intend the death — unlike Jack Kevorkian of Michigan, who served eight years on a second-degree murder conviction for assisting in one of the 130 suicides he said he aided.

"A lot of these cases don't get charged, but it was no surprise that they filed" against Murray, Levenson says. It was "his bad luck that Michael Jackson was a public icon."

The final hours

According to court documents and witness accounts at a preliminary hearing in January, these events surrounded Jackson's death:

Interviewed two days after Jackson died, Murray told Los Angeles police detective Orlando Martinez he had been seeing the insomnia-plagued Jackson for two months.

Las Vegas pharmacist Tim Lopez testified he shipped 255 vials of propofol to the Santa Monica, Calif., apartment of actress Nicole Alvarez, Murray's mistress and the mother of his then-infant son. Lopez said he was led to believe the propofol was for a clinic, not for a single patient.

At Jackson's request, Murray told Martinez, he administered propofol through an intravenous drip almost every night. He claimed other doctors had done so. But he had begun to "wean" Jackson from 50-milligram doses to 25 milligrams, Murray said.

After a rehearsal session, Jackson and Murray arrived back at the entertainer's rented, $20 million Holmby Hills mansion after midnight June 25. An exhausted Jackson kept complaining he couldn't get to sleep, despite periodic injections of sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs including Valium, lorazepam and midazolam, according to Murray.

Jackson repeatedly "begged" for propofol, Martinez quoted Murray as saying. Feeling pressure, Murray said, he administered a 25-milligram dose at 10:40 a.m.

Prosecutors argue that Murray was distracted, continuously texting and phoning girlfriends and others in the hours before the singer's death when he should have been monitoring vital signs.

At 11:51 a.m., telephone records showed, Murray phoned Sade Anding, a Houston cocktail waitress. She testified that he abruptly stopped talking. She heard a commotion, coughing, voices muttering, she said.

Murray told detectives he had returned from the bathroom and found Jackson not breathing.

Security guard Alberto Alvarez testified that he entered the second-floor bedroom and saw Jackson sprawled on the bed with eyes and mouth open. "He had a bad reaction," he said he was told by Murray, who was performing CPR with one hand.

Faheem Muhammad, head of security for Jackson, described Murray as flustered and sweating. "I remember him asking if anyone in the room knew CPR."

Alvarez said Murray ordered him to scoop vials of medication into a bag before making a 911 emergency call. Paramedics got the call at 12:22 p.m. and arrived three minutes later.

Paramedic Richard Senneff testified that he first thought Jackson was "a hospice patient" because he looked pale and underweight, with an IV stand by the bed. Senneff judged that Jackson, cold to the touch, had been dead for 20 minutes.

According to Senneff, Murray said Jackson was being treated for dehydration and had received only lorazepam. Senneff and paramedic Martin Blount testified that Murray never mentioned propofol.

Nor did he mention propofol to two emergency room doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where Jackson arrived by ambulance at 1:23 p.m., those doctors testified. Jackson was declared dead at 2:26 p.m. Murray refused to sign the death certificate, UCLA doctors told detectives. As Jackson's doctor, he would have been expected to take that responsibility.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office ruled the cause of death was "acute propofol intoxication" combined with effects of the sedatives, chiefly lorazepam.

At the preliminary hearing, Christopher Rogers of the coroner's office called Murray's care "substandard."

Rogers said Murray is culpable even if Jackson gave himself the final dose, because it would have been wrong to leave a propofol-dependent patient alone with access to the drug.

Propofol is inappropriate for insomnia and shouldn't be used outside a hospital setting, Rogers said.

'A battle of experts'

Only prosecution witnesses testified at the preliminary hearing, but Oxman says the trial will be anything but one-sided.

"The defense has a lot of ammunition," he says. "It's going to be very tough to get a conviction here."

Dallas anesthesiologist Paul White and Pasadena, Calif., psychiatrist Joseph Haraszti are on call as defense experts with scientific opinions that Murray didn't cause Jackson's death.

White would suggest that "one alternative" is that Jackson swallowed propofol on his own, Flanagan says. Walgren says he'll counter with New York anesthesiologist Steven Shafer's opinion that propofol can't produce sleep or death if swallowed.

The trial will present "a battle of experts," Levenson says. "Was it Murray's fault, or that of other doctors? Was it a bad drug batch? Was it simply a person who was frail and had gone through a lot of other procedures?"

Murray's team, Oxman says, could exploit some evidence potentially casting suspicion on unknown third parties:

The mystery fingerprint. A still-unidentified print, not from Jackson or Murray, was found on a syringe that administered propofol. "The inference is that it was touched after it was taken out of its plastic bag … minutes before death," Oxman says. "It's a disturbing factor, one that the defense could have a great time with."

The missing video. Police downloaded four minutes of video from the hard drive of the mansion's camera surveillance system, but they say the system later erased the entire hard drive, Oxman says.

Missing cash? The missing footage, Oxman says, conceivably might have revealed someone with a motive — robbery — to kill Jackson. The singer recently had received $15 million from AEG Live and was known to keep large amounts of cash, Oxman says.

If convicted, Murray would lose his medical licenses in California, Nevada and Texas. In January, Pastor suspended the California license to prevent "an immediate danger to public safety."

The Jackson family fears that any judicial punishment of Murray would be unduly light, says Oxman, who talks with family members regularly.

In the same downtown courthouse, another judge in January sentenced psychiatrist Khristine Eroshevich to a $100 fine and a year's probation in the case of another celebrity drug-overdose victim, reality star Anna Nicole Smith.

Accused of conspiring to illegally obtain drugs for Smith, who died in Florida in 2007, Eroshevich had been convicted of a lesser charge.

Oxman says her light sentence is "a disturbing fact, one that has everyone in the Jackson family saying, 'Is that all there is?'"

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