Jacksons v AEG Timeline Legal

A pharmacological never-never land: Murray trial update

By | Published on Tuesday 25 October 2011

Conrad Murray

A dramatic witness throughout, anaesthesiology expert Dr Steven Shafer left the jury with a compelling conclusion yesterday, referencing Michael Jackson’s obsession with Peter Pan: Conrad Murray’s treatment of the late king of pop was a “pharmacological Never-Never Land”.

Murray, of course, is accused of causing Jackson’s death by negligently administering the anaesthetic propofol as a cure for insomnia. The defence argue that Murray only gave his patient a tiny amount of the drug, and that Jackson must have woken up and self-administered a larger fatal shot while Murray was out of the room.

But, in a multi-day testimony, the dramatic Shafer – who, on hearing the defence were, at one point, suggesting Jackson may have drunk the fatal shot of propofol, himself downed a shot of the drug to prove it had next to zero affected when taken orally – poured scorn on the defence’s argument throughout.

The levels of propofol in Jackson’s system, he said, made only one theory feasible: Murray, far from administering just a tiny amount of the drug, was pumping a constant supply of it into the singer’s body via an IV system when he left his patient’s room to make some phone calls. Yes, some crucial kit was missing from Jackson’s bedroom, but only some tubing Murray could easily have disposed off when panic ensued in the minutes after Jackson’s death.

Shafer’s testimony brought to an end four weeks of arguments by the prosecution, allowing the defence to spend more time on their theory that Jackson himself administered the fatal shot of propofol. They began by bringing in other medics consulted by the singer regards his troubles sleeping. The bid was to show that insomnia had made Jackson a desperate man, desperate enough to take dangerous drugs without his doctor’s knowledge in a bid to induce sleep.

Nurse Cherilyn Lee, who met Jackson via one of his bodyguards in 2009, confirmed the singer frequently struggled to sleep – though, she noted, his concurrent addiction to Red Bull and other caffeine filled drinks played its part in that condition. She had recommended various herbal remedies to help Jackson sleep, she told the court, and the singer had been eager to try them. After signing up to the ‘This Is It’ residency in London, Jackson had suggested to Lee that she travel to the UK with him, so he could have a ready supply of her sleep remedies.

But Jackson’s interest in sleep-aiding medications went beyond the herbal. The defence’s second witness, Dr Alan Metzger, who said he had treated Jackson on and off for two decades, confirmed the singer suffered from anxiety and sleep disorders throughout that time. He also confirmed what Murray has argued throughout, that the singer’s interest in using anaesthetics to induce sleep preceded the defendant’s employment as Jackson’s personal physician.

Metzger said Jackson first discussed the possibility of using ‘intravenous sleep medicine’ – ie anaesthetics – in early 2009. Murray, of course, claims that in the weeks before the pop star’s death that June, he was trying to wean Jackson off a dependency to propofol. That said, Metzger’s testimony didn’t entirely go in the defence’s favour. Yes, Jackson had asked him to administer ‘intravenous sleep medicine’ too, the doctor said, but, unlike Murray, he had refused, telling the singer how dangerous it would be to use such medications in a domestic setting. “No amount of money would have persuaded me to grant this request”, Metzger told the court.

The case continues.