Jurors at the trial of Michael Jackson’s personal physician heard portions of a dramatic tape recording on Friday of Conrad Murray’s first statement to police, given two days after the pop legend died of an overdose of the powerful anesthetic propofol.
The statement, introduced as evidence by prosecutors, has never before been released to the public. It provides Dr. Murray's moment-by-moment account of Mr. Jackson’s final hours.
Murray gave the statement with his lawyers present before toxicology tests showed that Jackson died of an overdose. After those results, Murray emerged as a suspect in Jackson’s death.
Murray admitted that in an attempt to help Jackson sleep he gave intravenous doses of two sedatives and propofol from 1 a.m. to about 11 a.m. on June 25, 2009.
The doctor said he had been treating Jackson’s chronic insomnia for more than two months by giving him nightly doses of propofol. He said he was worried that Jackson had developed a dependency, and he was trying to wean him from relying on the anesthetic.
“Three days before his death I started to wean Mr. Jackson from propofol,” Murray told the detectives. “I told him I wanted him to assume a more natural pattern of sleep.”
It didn’t work. Jackson was under intense pressure from his concert promoters – and ultimately his fans – to deliver spectacular performances in rehearsals and eventually in London. As the pressure intensified, so did Jackson’s insomnia.
It all came to a head at about 10:50 a.m. on June 25, 2009.
The crucial few hours
Jackson had been complaining through the early morning hours of his inability to fall asleep. “All the time he complained that if he could not perform, he would have to cancel rehearsal,” Murray said. “It would not satisfy his fans if he was not rested well. There was a lot of pressure there.”
At one point Murray even checked the IV where he had administered two sedatives in four different doses. He said he wanted to make sure the connection was flowing into Jackson and had not leaked onto the bed.
Murray told police that by 10:40 a.m. Jackson was pleading for propofol, which he had nicknamed “milk.”
“He said, ‘Please, please give me some milk so I can sleep,’ ” Murray said on the tape. The detectives seemed to think for a moment he meant something quaint like milk and cookies. But Jackson’s request was for heavy sedation.
Murray eventually surrendered to Jackson’s wishes and said he injected 25 milligrams of propofol into Jackson’s IV.
“He fell asleep,” Murray said. “He was not snoring. I was a little bit hesitant that he would jump out of sleep.” He added: “He does that.”
Murray said he sat at Jackson’s bedside and monitored his heart rate and other vital signs until he felt confident that “everything was stable.”
He said went to the bathroom and returned in about two minutes. “I came back to his bedside and it looked like he wasn’t breathing,” Murray said. “I was able to get a pulse. His body was warm. There was no change in color. I assumed everything happened very quickly.”
The doctor said he immediately started CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
At one point he said he ran downstairs to try to get someone to help him with CPR. He said he called Jackson’s personal assistant on his cell phone and asked that security come help him. In addition, he gave an intravenous dose of the antidote flumazenil, which is administered to help wake overmedicated patients.
It didn’t work.
Murray told the detectives that he did not immediately call 911 or ask someone else to call because Jackson was his patient and he was doing the best he could. Eventually, when one of Jackson’s security guards arrived, Murray told him to call 911. The call was made at 12:20 p.m.
“I love Mr. Jackson. He was my friend,” Murray told the police. “He opened up to me in different ways and I wanted to help him as much as I can.”
The physician added, “He was a single parent and I always thought about his children, as I would think about mine.”
What it means for the trial
Although it was offered by prosecutors, the tape recorded account presents some useful openings for Murray’s defense team.
Murray has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for his role in Jackson’s death. If convicted he faces up to four years in prison and loss of his medical license.
Murray’s lawyers maintain that the doctor did not administer a fatal dose of propofol. They suggest that Jackson – frustrated by his inability to sleep – somehow self administered the deadly dose.
In his June 27, 2009 taped statement, Murray told police that Jackson wanted to infuse the propofol into his own system. Jackson told Murray other doctors had allowed him to do so.
“I refused him that option,” Murray said on the tape. He said the anesthetic is so fast acting that self dosing would be dangerous.
The most important aspect of the tape recording for prosecutors is that it highlights an extremely selective account of Jackson’s final hours – particularly the critical minutes from 11 a.m. to the arrival of paramedics at 12:26 p.m.
According to prior witnesses and telephone records, Murray was talking on his cellphone to his office and his girlfriend during the critical hour between his injection of propofol into Jackson and his apparent discovery that Jackson was in danger at around 11:56 a.m.
It is unclear why 911 was not called immediately. It is also unclear why at certain moments during that crucial time Murray appeared to be trying to clean up drug vials and a drip bag before paramedics would arrive in Jackson’s bedroom.
Ultimately, the case against Murray will come down to the issue of whether he acted recklessly or instead provided appropriate care to Jackson.
“I took all precautions that were available to me,” he told the detectives. “I made sure there was oxygen at the bedside, that he was placed on oxygen every night.” He added that he used a finger tip oximeter to track Jackson’s heart rate.
But medical experts say it is unheard of to administer propofol in a residential bedroom. The anesthetic requires monitoring devices with alarms, a full array of resuscitation equipment, and the constant attention of a skilled anesthesiologist, they say.
The trial is set to continue on Tuesday.