Michael Jackson’s doctor was guilty of “gross negligence”, which led to the pop icon’s death, a prosecutor said on Tuesday — but the medic’s lawyer countered bluntly that the star killed himself.
At the start of Conrad Murray’s long-awaited manslaughter trial, his lawyer said the King of Pop took two different drugs while the doctor was out of the room at the star’s rented Holmby Hills mansion, on June 25 2009.
“He did an act without his doctor’s knowledge, without his doctor’s permission, against his orders, he did an act that caused his own death,” said lawyer Ed Chernoff.
Specifically he said Jackson swallowed eight 2mg lorazepam pills, pushing his blood concentration of lorazepam to 0.169 micrograms per milliliter, enough to put six people to sleep.
“[Jackson] did this when Dr Murray was not around,” Chernoff said, claiming the 50-year-old singer also gave himself an extra dose of powerful sedative propofol, which he was using to help him get to sleep.
“The scientific evidence will show you that when Dr Murray left the room, Michael Jackson self-administered a dose of propofol that, with the lorazepam, created a perfect storm in his body.”
The combination “killed him instantly. He died so rapidly, so instantly, he didn’t even have time to close his eyes,” he said.
Murray (58) faces up to four years in jail if convicted by a jury of seven men and five women of involuntary manslaughter for Jackson’s death, as the star was preparing for a series of comeback concerts.
Specifically he allegedly gave Jackson an overdose of the powerful sedative propofol — which Jackson himself referred to as “milk” — to help alleviate his insomnia at a rented estate in the posh Holmby Hills neighborhood of LA.
Murray, trained as a cardiologist, has never denied giving Jackson propofol, which typically is used as an anesthetic during surgery, but he denies having “abandoned his patient” at a critical, and ultimately fatal, moment.
In the prosecution’s opening statement, deputy district attorney David Walgren said: “The evidence … will show that Michael Jackson literally put his life in the hands of Conrad Murray.
“That misplaced trust … cost Michael Jackson his life,” he added, claiming Murray was motivated more by his $150 000 contract with Jackson than by his duty of care to the singer.
The doctor made a series of phone calls — and even emailed an insurance agent dismissing media reports that Jackson was too sick to play the London concerts — while Jackson lay dying, he said.
Walgren also played an audio recording of an apparently heavily-drugged Jackson talking in a slurred voice to Murray, a month and a half before his death — suggesting this showed the doctor was well aware of how ill Jackson was.
Family out in force
Jackson’s mother Katherine and father Joe were in court, along with his siblings Jermaine, Janet, LaToya, Randy, Tito and Rebbie.
At least 300 fans and others lined up outside the court, some chanting “murderer” at Murray, At one point before the trial started a woman tried to attack the doctor, but was stopped by security guards, reports said.
The first witness expected to be called was Kenny Ortega, the producer of Jackson’s This Is It shows — clips of which may also be played in court during the trial.
The panel to decide Murray’s fate includes six white jurors, five Hispanics and one African American. They include high school graduates, some jurors with a college education, and one with a masters in business degree.
Half of the panel’s members are Jackson fans — a 54-year-old juror wrote that she “loved his music as a very young girl, as an adult not so much” — while one juror, a cartoon animator, once met Jackson.
Even before the trial started, some Jackson fans were saying Murray should face a more serious charge.
“He should have been charged with second degree murder,” said Erin Jacobs, head of the organisation “Justice4mj,” 10 of whose members were outside court in black T-shirts bearing their group’s name. — AFP