How did Michael Jackson die?

The trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor Conrad Murray enters its final act this week as a jury prepares to consider whether the medic is guilty over the King of Pop’s death in 2009.

After five weeks of testimony, about 40 witnesses and dizzying hours of medical argument, the seven male and five female jurors will finally be given the task of deciding the 58-year-old doctor’s fate.

While many observers have difficulty seeing how Murray can escape a guilty verdict, after four weeks of relentless prosecution testimony, the defence will hope to make a final appeal to sway the decision its way.

On Monday, prosecutors will grill the last witness, renowned anaesthesiologist Dr Paul White, who on Friday backed the defence theory that Jackson caused his own death by taking extra doses of sedative without Murray’s knowledge.

Prosecutor David Walgren and chief defence counsel Ed Chernoff will then present their closing arguments, before Judge Michael Pastor asks the jury to retire to consider its verdict.

Murray faces up to four years in jail if convicted of involuntary manslaughter over Jackson’s death from “acute propofol intoxication” on June 25 2009, in Los Angeles, where he was rehearsing for a series of planned comeback shows.

The prosecution claims that Murray, who was being paid $150 000 a month to look after Jackson, killed him by administering a deadly cocktail of drugs to help him sleep, and then abandoning him at the crucial moment.

The defence has sought to present Jackson as a desperate drug addict, who would have ended up killing himself with an accidental overdose with or without Murray’s help.

Jackson looked for his ‘milk’
But Murray’s case was not helped by his own account of Jackson’s final hours, given to police in an interview two days after his death, and played back in court early on in the trial.

In the gripping recording, he explained blow-by-blow how he tried in vain to help Jackson sleep from the early hours of the day he died, giving him a series of drugs including lorazepam and midazolam by intravenous injection.

He had been giving Jackson propofol—a clinic aesthetic not usually used outside of a hospital setting—nightly for two months to help him sleep, but began weaning him off of the drug three days before his death.

At 10.40am on the fateful day he said he gave the star 25mg of the drug—which Jackson begged for, calling it his “milk”—as a last-ditch way to finally get him to sleep.

Murray claimed he left the star for only two minutes to go to the bathroom, and returned to find Jackson not breathing.

The trouble is, the timeline and phone records raised a number of questions: Murray was on the phone to a series of girlfriends when Jackson was apparently dying, while the doctor delayed calling 911 for an agonisingly long time.

To counter the questions, the defence over the last week of the trial presented two key witnesses, Dr Allan Metzger and nurse Cherilyn Lee, who testified how Jackson had begged for propofol months before his death.

Did self-injection do it?
Jackson was desperate to sleep, as he prepared for the This Is It series of 50 comeback concerts in London.

Another key witness, addiction expert Dr Robert Waldman, said Jackson’s chronic insomnia could well be due to withdrawal from painkiller Demerol, given to him several times a week by a Beverly Hills dermatologist, Dr Arnold Klein.

The end of the trial boiled down to a clash between two renowned experts on propofol: Dr White for the defence, and Dr Steven Shafer—coincidentally a former junior colleague of Dr White—for the prosecution.

White, who will take the stand for the last time on Monday, summed up the defence’s case—that Jackson effectively killed himself—on Friday.

“So you think it was self-injection of propofol ... between 11.30 and 12 o’clock that did it?” Murray’s defence attorney Michael Flanagan asked White, after complex testimony about what exactly Jackson could have taken and when.

“In my opinion, yes,” said the respected anaesthesiologist.

The coming week will see whether the jury agrees.—AFP

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