For several months after that fateful day of June 25, the LAPD investigative unit chiefs and the LA District Attorney hotly debated what charges could be brought against Dr. Conrad Murray in the death of his patient, Michael Jackson.
Most wanted to go for murder, but they feared a déjà vu of the disastrous OJ Simpson and Robert Blake homicide trials, so embarrassing and demoralizing to LA law enforcement. Indeed, they had less substantive evidence against Murray than the two acquitted celebrities. So, finally, erring on the side of caution, DA Steve Cooley, settled on charging the cardiologist with grossly negligent manslaughter.
As it stands now, the DA’s evidence against Dr. Murray is formidable. The autopsy report is against him, as is circumstantial evidence, his own erroneous account, not to mention his checkered past.
Murray told LAPD detectives that he intravenously administered to a sleepless Jackson four sedatives over the course of about eight hours, then 25 milligrams of propofol. But the coroner reported finding a dose of the powerful anesthetic sufficient for general surgery – 400 milligrams.
The District Attorney charges that Murray fell far short of his legal obligation to show a professional measure of care. The doctor’s defense team will have a difficult time refuting or even casting reasonable doubt on this charge.
Standard medical procedure dictates that propofol be administered with a regulating infusion pump, or risk patient overdose. Murray used no such instrument. An ECG and pulse oximeter should have been on hand. They were not. For a continuous and regulated oxygen supply, Murray should have intubated Jackson as well.
Negligence certainly seems apparent from the lack of proper monitoring and life support mechanisms. Even had they been present, many physicians insist that propofol should never be used outside a fully equipped hospital, or by a doctor who is not an anesthesiologist.
Above all, safe medical guidelines mandate that an anesthetized patient never be left unattended. Murray told authorities he left Jackson alone for “two minutes” to go to the bathroom.
But evidence now suggests Murray may have been absent for a longer period. He originally told the police that he gave Jackson propofol at 10:50 a.m., then discovered him with a weak and fading pulse at about 11. But phone records reveal that he was on the phone, speaking “calmly” with three different parties until about 12:08. His Houston girlfriend with whom he was talking at this time, heard him drop the phone.
A Jackson bodyguard called 911 at 12:21. In the intervening thirteen minutes, Murray improperly administered CPR and injected Jackson with a resuscitive flumanzenil shot to no avail.
“Dr. Murray's timeline of events that day when Michael Jackson died is wrong,” his defense attorney, Michael Flanagan stated. “Doctors make mistakes, and that is what he did, and it was simply just that, a mistake.”
Indeed, that Murray could have discovered Jackson in trouble at 11 but failed to call paramedics for 81 minutes seemed improbable on the face of it. So the prosecution will likely attempt to show that Murray’s original timetable wasn’t really an innocent mistake, but a cover-up effort gone wrong.
Countering this, lead defense attorney, Ed Chernoff recently told RadarOnline.com: "Dr. Murray made three phone calls and there is no information that would lead anyone to the conclusion that they were made anywhere but at the bedside."
This question of fact may or may not be resolved with eyewitness testimony by Jackson bodyguards or other staff members who either did or did not see the doctor continuously at the bedside from the time the propofol was injected to the time CPR began. But even if a reliable witness testifies that the doctor did not leave his patient’s side while on the phone, his alleged failure to use proper medical monitoring equipment remains.
Finally, outside the issue professional negligence, the defense will have an uphill battle portraying their client as a trustworthy and reliable individual. During the arraignment proceedings, Deputy DA David Walgreen, asserted that Murray “leads an irresponsible and financially unstable life.”
He had declared bankruptcy in 1992, then on the brink of insolvency again, decided to leave his Nevada practice, Global Cardiovascular Associates, in order to become Jackson’s personal physician for $150,000 per month. Despite his new lucrative position, Murry was facing foreclosure on his Vegas mansion, and his practice had been hit with nearly a half million dollars in court judgments for unpaid debts. Moreover, he had fathered seven children with six different women; several have filed child nonsupport and fraudulent breach of trust charges against him, and one for domestic violence.
In fleshing out this checkered legal and domestic history, the prosecution will try to show the jury a defendant who seems to have become a financial desperado and a scofflaw. Nor will the DA forget to mention that Murray’s Houston medical clinic was shut down in 2002 after his partner was found guilty of running what authorities called a “pill mill” there. To what extent was Murray involved? Prosecutors will certainly delve into this question.
As if all this were not enough to get a conviction, prosecutors possibly have an ace or two in the hole: the so far undisclosed evidence LAPD and DEA detectives may have recovered from his car, his storage facilities, his houses, his offices, and/or his computers.
Even so, in spite of having what was called “a mountain” of evidence, the LA District Attorney’s office somehow lost the OJ case. They were charged with being overconfident, sloppy, short-sighted. Surely this time around they will be crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s to see that Dr. Conrad Murray does not walk free.
A prosecution victory will help restore faith in the LAPD and DA. On the other hand, a defense victory will win Chernoff and his team – like the OJ “Dream Team” –overnight acclaim and a king’s ransom for future cases.
But either way, no one else will really win a thing. Not Michael’s fans, not his family. Michael will not be resurrected — but rather dug up, dissected and desecrated. Murray will not be imprisoned for long, if at all – but he will be ruined professionally, and maybe personally.
The tragedy is, these were two remarkable black men who came up from nothing to reach the very top of their professions.
“Ever since I was a little boy,” wrote Michael in his autobiography, “I had dreamed of creating the biggest-selling record of all time.” This son of a poor Des Moines crane operator achieved far more, becoming one of the greatest and most beloved entertainers of the century.
Conrad Murray grew up in abject poverty in Grenada and didn’t even meet his own father, a cardiologist, until the age of 25. But he followed in his footsteps, graduated from medical school magna cum laude and on full scholarship, and went on to open three thriving practices specializing in treating the poor.
Then, years later, after unfortunate setbacks, fate brought these two extraordinary, but now weakened, men together. The first, though worshipped worldwide, lay in bed, incapable of simple sleep without anesthesia; the second, loved by many of his patients but now on the brink of bankruptcy, sat at his bedside. Then with a single injection, the lives of these once great men ended.
This is a tragedy that no trial can ever rectify.