Paramedic: Dr. Murray's report on Michael Jackson didn't add up

The first paramedic to arrive in Michael Jackson's bedroom says he was told the emergency had just occurred, but that the pop star's condition contradicted Dr. Murray's report.

Al Seib/Reuters
Prosecution witness and paramedic Richard Senneff testifies in Dr. Conrad Murray's involuntary manslaughter trial in the death of pop star Michael Jackson in Los Angeles, Friday.

The first paramedic to arrive in Michael Jackson’s bedroom on the day he died in 2009 testified on Friday that Mr. Jackson’s condition did not match what his personal physician told emergency workers as they fought to save his life.

“How long has the patient been down?” Los Angeles Fire Department paramedic Richard Senneff said he asked Dr. Conrad Murray, as first responders began to work on the pop star’s lifeless body.

“It just happened,” Mr. Senneff said Dr. Murray told him.

Senneff said he took it as encouraging news. “It meant to me this was a patient we had a really good chance of saving,” he told the jury.

But as he and his colleagues continued to fight to revive Jackson, Senneff said, the medical evidence uniformly contradicted Murray’s assertion, suggesting the emergency had not been as recent as the doctor had declared. Senneff later estimated it could have been 20 minutes to an hour earlier.

The comments came on the fourth day of testimony at the Los Angeles County Courthouse, where Murray is on trial for allegedly administering a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to Jackson.

Prosecutors allege that Murray was using the powerful anesthetic to treat Jackson’s chronic inability to sleep. Propofol is not a recognized treatment for insomnia and is usually administered by specialists in a surgical setting in a fully equipped hospital or clinic.

Murray was allegedly administering the drug to Jackson in his bedroom on a nightly basis without monitoring equipment capable of sounding an alarm should Jackson develop life threatening complications.

Prosecutors allege that is what happened on June 25, 2009. An autopsy showed Jackson died of an overdose of propofol.

Murray, a cardiologist hired to serve as Jackson’s personal physician, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for his alleged role in the death. If convicted he faces up to four years in prison and loss of his medical license.

Defense lawyers suggest that Jackson gave himself the lethal dose of propofol when Murray was out of the room.

The precise time that Jackson stopped breathing and lost consciousness is important in the trial because prosecutors maintain that Murray may have delayed calling 911 in an effort to cover up his and Jackson’s unauthorized use of propofol.

Telephone records suggest Murray was talking on his cell phone instead of constantly monitoring his sedated patient.

At some point around noon on March 25, Murray realized Jackson was in the midst of a medical emergency.

At about 12:05 p.m., according to Jackson’s chef, the doctor burst from Jackson’s bedroom and yelled to the household staff for help.

At 12:12 p.m., he telephoned Jackson’s personal assistant and informed him that Jackson had “a bad reaction.”

The 911 call was not made until 12:20 p.m.

Paramedics arrived at 12:26 p.m.

A second paramedic on the scene testified on Friday that he heard Murray say Jackson “has been down for about one minute.”

Senneff said he quickly began to mentally question Murray’s suggestion based on Jackson’s physical condition. Senneff said Jackson’s skin was cool to the touch, his eyes were open and dry, and the pupils dilated. In addition, the heart monitor on his equipment was a “flat line,” meaning it showed no measurable pulse.

Noticing an IV stand in the bedroom and medical vials on the nightstand, Senneff asked if Murray had given Jackson any medications. The doctor replied that he had given Jackson some Lorazepam, a sedative, to help him sleep.

“Did he ever use the word propofol?” Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil asked.

“At no time,” Senneff said. “He never mentioned the word propofol.”

Despite repeated efforts to revive Jackson, he showed no signs of life. Senneff said he was in contact with officials at UCLA Medical Center and that twice they suggested making a formal declaration of death.

Murray disagreed, Senneff said. The doctor said he thought he felt a pulse.

Senneff suspected it was the effect of non-stop CPR efforts of paramedics. He told an emergency worker to stop chest compressions and then checked his heart monitor. “The heart monitor was a clean flat line,” he testified.

Senneff said both he and another firefighter checked physically to see if they could feel a pulse. They could not, he said.

Murray asked that Jackson be transported to the hospital and that resuscitation efforts continue. The paramedics complied.

“Did you ever see any sign of life during the entire time you were attempting to save him,” Ms. Brazil asked.

“No, I did not,” Senneff said.

Senneff said Jackson was carried from the room and placed in the ambulance. He said as that was happening, he returned to Jackson’s bedroom to recover the rest of his equipment.

The paramedic said he was surprised to find Murray still in the bedroom with a trash bag in his hand, picking up items from the floor. “He was surprised to see me,” Senneff said, agreeing with the suggestion that he looked a bit like a “deer in the headlights.”

On cross-examination, Defense Attorney Nareg Gourjian took issue with the fact that Murray might take a few moments to straighten the room before leaving for the hospital.

“You would agree picking up equipment left behind is an appropriate and medically appropriate thing to do, especially since children reside in that residence,” Mr. Gourjian asked.

“Correct,” Senneff replied.

The trial is expected to resume Monday.

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