Exhausted and unable to sleep amid the mounting pressures of a fast-approaching comeback concert, pop superstar Michael Jackson gave himself an accidental overdose of drugs that killed him instantly, a defense lawyer said in opening statements Tuesday at the trial of Mr. Jackson’s personal physician.
Defense attorney Edward Chernoff told the jury of seven men and five women that his client, Dr. Conrad Murray, did not administer a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol to Jackson in June 2009.
Instead, he said, Jackson was taking prescription medications behind Dr. Murray’s back, and gave himself a final propofol dose with Murray out of the room. The drugs created a “perfect storm in his body that killed him instantly.”
“When Dr. Murray found him, there was no CPR, or doctor, or paramedic, or machine that was going to revive Michael Jackson,” Mr. Chernoff told the jury in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. “He died so rapidly, so instantly, that he didn’t even have time to close his eyes.”
Murray, a cardiologist, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly giving Jackson a fatal dose of propofol while attempting to help Jackson overcome persistent insomnia and get some much-needed rest.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney David Walgren pounded away at Murray’s actions in the final hours of the pop legend’s life.
“Conrad Murray repeatedly acted with gross negligence, repeatedly denied appropriate care to his patient Michael Jackson,” Mr. Walgren said. “It was Conrad Murray’s repeated incompetent acts that led to Mr. Jackson’s death.”
In a surprise move, Walgren played a portion of an audio recording Murray made of Jackson on his iPhone apparently during one of their sedation sessions.
On the recording, Jackson’s heavily slurred and sluggish voice can be heard discussing his hopes of a successful concert. It offered a shocking contrast to the clear, high-pitched voice that sang so many well-known hit songs over the years.
The prosecutor told the jury that the recording demonstrated Murray’s knowledge of what he was doing to Jackson. It was made roughly a month and a half before Jackson’s death.
At the center of the case is the question of how so much propofol got into Jackson’s system, and whether Murray fulfilled his professional and ethical responsibility by leaving a heavily-sedated patient unmonitored for a period of time.
Murray told investigators he went to the rest room for two minutes “maximum,” and then noticed Jackson wasn’t breathing. But Murray’s cell phone records show he conducted multiple conversations during the same period.
Walgren told the jury that Murray had agreed to serve as Jackson’s personal physician for $150,000 a month. His primary responsibility was to help Jackson overcome his insomnia.
Jackson had a preference for the anesthetic propofol. For two months, Murray facilitated that preference by administering a daily dose of propofol to Jackson to help him sleep.
Propofol is usually administered in a surgical setting, such as a hospital or clinic and is not a medically-accepted sleep aid. Nonetheless, Murray agreed to deliver injected and intravenous doses to Jackson in his Los Angeles mansion.
Prosecutors say Murray lied to a pharmaceutical supplier to obtain the substantial quantity of propofol demanded by Jackson. Walgren said that by June 2009, Murray had purchased more than four gallons of propofol, apparently for Jackson’s use.
The prosecutor said rather than a doctor-patient relationship, the connection between Murray and Jackson was that of employee-employer. “Murray was not working for the benefit of Michael Jackson or the health of Michael Jackson, he was working for $150,000 a month,” Walgren said.
The prosecutors told the jury that to find Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter they must agree that he had engaged in serious neglect and gross negligence in Jackson’s death.
Walgren said the fact that Murray was using propofol to treat insomnia was itself gross negligence. He said the glaring lack of monitoring and emergency resuscitation equipment in Jackson’s home was gross negligence. Murray’s decision to leave his sedated patient alone, unmonitored, even for a few moments, was gross negligence, the prosecutor said. And the doctor’s failure to immediately call 911 upon discovering that Jackson had stopped breathing was also gross negligence.
“Basic common sense requires that 911 be called immediately – basic common sense. And we know that wasn’t done,” Walgren told the jury.
Defense attorney Chernoff countered that Murray was trying to wean Jackson off his dependence on propofol and steering him toward other medications. “He had always told Michael Jackson you can’t keep using this,” the lawyer said.
A side effect of the addiction and attempted withdrawal, he said, is an absolute inability to sleep. Chernoff said Dr. Murray had no idea Jackson had a Demerol dependence and continuing access to the drug through a different physician.
The defense attorney told the jury that an expert witness will testify that Murray could not have killed Jackson if he administered the level of propofol he reported to investigators.
“The science will prove that there had to be more propofol delivered to Michael Jackson’s system after Dr. Murray left the room,” Chernoff said. He told the jury that at some point Jackson swallowed up to eight doses of the anti-anxiety drug Lorazepam without telling Murray, and that after Murray gave him a modest dose of propofol, Jackson gave himself an additional dose.
“It killed him, like that,” Chernoff said. “And there was no way to save him.”
The trial is set to continue on Wednesday.