Michael Jackson: Defense of Dr. Conrad Murray stumbles at the start

Score one for the prosecution. A former physician for Michael Jackson, called as a defense witness, says he would "never" have administered propofol at a patient's home as sleep medicine.

Paul Buck/AP
Defense attorney Ed Chernoff (r.) holds up an intravenous drip during cross examination of propofol expert Dr. Steven Shafer (l.) during the Dr. Conrad Murray trial in Los Angeles Superior Court in Los Angeles, Calif. Monday.

Lawyers defending Michael Jackson’s personal physician sought Monday to poke holes in the prosecution’s case in the month-long manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray.

But the effort seemed to falter badly when a former physician for Mr. Jackson – called as a defense witness – testified that he would never, for any price, administer an intravenous sedative like propofol at a patient’s home as sleep medicine.

“Did you ever give Michael Jackson propofol,” Deputy District Attorney David Walgren asked Dr. Allan Metzger.

“Never,” Dr. Metger answered.

Was there any amount of money that would convince Dr. Metzger to administer propofol to Jackson in his house, Mr. Walgren asked.

"No,” the doctor said emphatically.

Rather than helping the defense, Metzger’s testimony appeared to significantly bolster the involuntary manslaughter case against Murray.

Murray is charged with giving Jackson a lethal dose of propofol on June 25, 2009 in an effort to treat the pop star’s chronic insomnia. The medical examiner ruled that Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication.

A medical expert called by the prosecution told the jury last week that the available evidence suggests that Murray set up an unimpeded intravenous drip of propofol that continued to flow into Jackson’s body until he was so drugged that he stopped breathing and died.

Defense lawyers ridiculed the assertion as mere opinion. But it remains to be seen whether Edward Chernoff and others on the defense team will offer a more plausible explanation for how so much of the powerful anesthetic got into Jackson’s system.

They have suggested that Jackson may have self-administered the lethal dose, but medical experts have said that prospect is unlikely because the anesthetic is so fast-acting.

Dr. Metzger’s testimony came shortly after Walgren announced that the prosecution was resting its case. So far, prosecutors have called 33 witnesses and introduced over 220 pieces of evidence at the trial at the Los Angeles County Courthouse.

Defense lawyers are expected to call 15 witnesses.

After the defense presents its case, prosecutors may call rebuttal witnesses before the case is submitted to the jury. The may happen as early as next week.

In addition to Metzger, the defense on Monday called four members of the Los Angeles Police Department and a nurse/practitioner who gave nutritional supplements and natural sleep remedies to Jackson intravenously in February and March 2009. The testimony of Cherilyn Lee is potentially significant because it demonstrates that Jackson was participating in nightly intravenous drips before the arrival of Dr. Murray in April.

Murray has said he provided propofol to Jackson on a nightly basis from April until his death in June.

Ms. Lee testified that at one point Jackson asked her to sit at his bedside through the night so she could observe his difficulty in staying asleep. She said she watched Jackson sleep for about five hours before he woke up around 3 a.m.

She said she had administered a special nutritional IV with a low dose of vitamin C, in addition to a cup of “Sleepy Time Tea.”

“I stayed and watched him every second,” she told the jury.

Lee said Jackson had asked her to come to London and continue her nutritional therapy while on tour. But later Jackson complained that natural remedies would not ease his insomnia.

If convicted, Murray faces up to four years in prison and loss of his medical license.

The trial is set to continue on Tuesday.

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