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Michael Jackson / Conrad Murray in the news > Science is cornerstone in trial of Michael Jackson's doctor

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7 Oct 2011


Science is cornerstone in trial of Michael Jackson's doctor

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 7:14 AM EST, Fri October 7, 2011 

 Los Angeles (CNN) -- Jurors in the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor will hear more testimony about the drugs found in the pop icon's blood Friday, but they should also soon hear the police interview with Jackson's doctor.

The pathologist who conducted Jackson's autopsy and ruled his death a homicide could testify Friday or next Tuesday, after the trial takes a Columbus Day break.

Dr. Conrad Murray's involuntary manslaughter trial, which enters its ninth day of testimony Friday, should go to the jury within two weeks, according to prosecution and defense sources.

The scientific evidence, presented by a coroner's toxicologist, is tedious and often hard to follow, but is the cornerstone of the prosecution's case. 

Jurors who will decide if Dr. Murray is criminally responsible for Jackson's fatal overdose appeared to pay close attention as they took notes while a toxicologist Dan Anderson detailed the lab results from Jackson's autopsy Thursday.

Prosecutors contend a high level of the surgical anesthetic propofol found in Jackson's blood was the result of Dr. Murray's reckless use of a makeshift IV system with no monitoring equipment to put Jackson to sleep with the drug.

The Los Angeles County coroner concluded Jackson's June 25, 2009, death was caused by "acute propofol intoxication" in combination with sedatives, including lorazepam.

Murray's lawyer Michael Flanagan, in his cross-examination of Anderson Thursday, tried to find support for the defense theory that Jackson swallowed eight lorazepam pills and self-administered a dosage of propofol while Murray was not watching.

A higher level of lorazepam was measured in Jackson's stomach contents than in the blood from his heart and leg, Flanagan noted.

"The concentration is about four times as concentrated in the stomach as it is in the blood, you think that's an important number?" Flanagan asked.

"Not really," Anderson said. "It doesn't necessarily mean it's oral administration."

Along with propofol, Lidocaine and lorazepam, tests of blood taken from Jackson's heart and leg also tested positive for Midazolam and Diazepam, drugs used to commonly used to alleviate anxiety or induce sleep.

Jackson did not have Demerol in his blood, which is significant because of the defense contention that Dr. Arnold Klein addicted Jackson to the painkiller in frequent visits to his Beverly Hills dermatology clinic in the weeks before his death, without Murray knowing.

Defense lawyer Ed Chernoff said in his opening statement that Jackson was unable to sleep because he was going through withdrawal from Demerol since he had not visited Dr. Klein for several days.

Murray told police in his interview two days after his death that he gave Jackson each of those drugs over a 10-hour period in an effort to help him sleep, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing in January.

One of the detectives who questioned Murray is expected to take the stand on Friday or next week to play the recording of the two-hour interview.

Murray's fingerprint was found on the 100-milliliter propofol bottle that coroner's investigator Elissa Fleak testified Thursday that she found inside a saline bag that was sliced open. The prosecutor contends it was that bottle that contained the drug that killed Jackson.

Fleak, who testified Wednesday and Thursday, endured an aggressive cross-examination during which Chernoff suggested she made "a substantial number of mistakes" when she searched Michael Jackson's bedroom.

Fleak acknowledged that she waited nearly two years writing in a report that the propofol bottle was inside the bag. She did, however, mention it in her preliminary hearing testimony.

She also never photographed the bottle in the bag, although she took dozens of photos of many lesser pieces of evidence.

At that January hearing, Fleak testified that she found a broken syringe plunger on the nightstand next to Jackson's bed, with a needle on the floor below. This could support the defense theory that he made have injected himself with the fatal dose of propofol.

But Fleak testified this week that she was mistaken about the needle matching up to the syringe. She told Chernoff she only realized this after a meeting this year with the prosecutor.

She also conceded that she moved the syringe before photographs of it were taken. Her fingerprint were later found on the syringe, an embarrassment for an investigator who said her practice is to wear rubber gloves when handling evidence.

Another oversight Chernoff pointed out was Fleak's failure to collect the IV stand and saline bag next to Jackson's bed until two days after his death.

Fleak revealed that she destroyed her handwritten notes from her June 25, 2009, search, but not the notes from the June 29, 2009, search. She said it is her routine practice to destroy her notes after she writes a report.

"You made substantial mistakes in your investigation?" Chernoff asked.

"No," Fleak replied.

On Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney David Walgren covered a courtroom table with drug vials and medical paraphernalia taken in Fleak's searches, a visual display of Murray's in-home treatment of Jackson.

Prosecutors argue that Murray, who was Jackson's personal doctor as he prepared for planned comeback concerts, is criminally responsible for the singer's death because of medical negligence and his reckless use of the propofol to help Jackson sleep.

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Murray could spend four years in a California prison and lose his medical license. 


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