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Misplaced trust cost Michael Jackson his life: Murray trial update

By | Published on Wednesday 28 September 2011

Michael Jackson

So the basic arguments are in now place after opening remarks were delivered by both sides on day one of the Conrad Murray trial, and they pretty much take the form we expected. Murray, of course, is the doctor accused of causing Michael Jackson’s death through negligence back in 2009.

The prosecution say that the king of pop – addicted to various prescription drugs and facing a gruelling 50 night residency at London’s O2 Arena – put his trust, and his life, into the hands of Murray, who then negligently administered the anaesthetic propofol – designed to put people under for surgery – as a sleeping aid, using the drug in totally the wrong environment, and failing to properly monitor his patient once the drug was in Jackson’s system. One shot too many killed the singer.

The defence, though, argue that Jackson’s addiction to certain prescription drugs was out of control before Murray began working with the singer, and that those drug dependencies were worsened by fears relating to the O2 residency, which was extended to 50 nights from the original ten against his wishes. Murray, they argued, was actually trying to wean Jackson off some of those drugs, in particular propofol. Possibly as a result, but unbeknownst to Murray, Jackson consumed an extra shot of the drug in a desperate act to induce sleep, resulting in his death.

As Murray’s manslaughter trial got under way yesterday, after various previous false starts and delays, the prosecution seemed to launch straight into shock tactics. Lead prosecutor David Walgren contrasted video footage of a seemingly fit and healthy Michael Jackson rehearsing for the ‘This Is It’ shows just days before his death with a previously unheard phone message, left on Murray’s iPhone around the same time, in which an almost incoherent Jackson slurs his words as he rambles about his ambitions for the O2 residency.

Jackson wasn’t especially unwell, frail or physically unable to perform a 50 night show, as some have suggested, but he was addicted to certain prescription drugs which made him erratic. Murray should have tried to tackle that addiction but, Walgren alleged, instead he fed it. The doctor had ordered just over four gallons of propofol between April and June 2009, and was negligently feeding Jackson’s addiction with it.

“This drug is not a sleep agent”, Walgren told the court. “It’s a general anaesthetic. It’s a wonderful drug if used by someone who knows what they are doing, and who knows the dangers as well as the benefits. But under no circumstances should it be given outside a hospital setting. Continuous monitoring is essential”. The fact Murray failed to tell paramedics trying to save Jackson that he had administered propofol, the prosecution added, proved the doctor knew he had used the drug inappropriately.

Walgren then added some back story, explaining how Murray came to be Jackson’s full time doctor in 2009. The singer had met the medic in Las Vegas a few years earlier, when Murray – practising medicine in the city – treated the singer for some nominal ailments.

They stayed in touch and, when Jackson struck a deal in early 2009 with AEG Live to do the O2 shows, and a full time medic was part of the deal, the singer asked for Murray. The job would require the doctor to give up his other work. He asked for $5 million for a one year contract. AEG offered $150,000 a month. He took the job, quickly informing his other patients to find new doctors, and telling a friend his new role was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

Jackson seemed to trust Murray, Walgren said, adding that the singer “literally put his life in the hands of Dr Conrad Murray. That misplaced trust cost Michael Jackson his life”. Others involved in the ‘This Is It’ venture became concerned about Jackson, especially after he showed up for rehearsals a week before he died in a bad way, suffering from chills, and rambling incoherently, presumably a condition linked to his drug dependencies. Tour choreographer Kenny Ortega sent Jacko home and took up the matter with Murray directly, who, the prosecution claim, took a hostile tone and told Ortega: “I am the doctor, not you”.

When he took to the stand, defence attorney Ed Chernoff agreed with some of the picture Walgren had painted. Yes, Jackson was addicted to prescription drugs. Yes, Murray had administered propofol to the singer as a sleep aid. But, Chernoff argued, Murray had been desperately trying to wean the singer off the more dangerous medications he was taking, despite the singer’s increased anxieties about the upcoming O2 residency. And it was those anxieties that caused Jackson to help himself to a dangerous mix of drugs on the morning of his death.

Unbeknownst to Murray, Chernoff said, a frustrated Jackson helped himself to eight lorazepam anti-anxiety pills in a bid to induce sleep. When that didn’t work he added propofol to the mix. Reuters quotes Chernoff as telling the court: “We believe the evidence will show … that when Dr Murray left the room, Michael Jackson self-administered a dose of propofol that, with the lorazepam, created a perfect storm within his body that killed him instantly. He died so rapidly, so instantly, he didn’t even have time to close his eyes. The whole thing is tragic, but the evidence is not that Dr Murray did it”.

Various members of the Jackson family were in court for the opening testimonies, including his parents and sisters Janet and La Toya. A string of witnesses will now be presented by both sides, though one that could stand out – should it go ahead – is Jackson’s teenage son Prince, who witnessed the scene as his late father died in his bedroom that day in 2009. According to The Sun, Prince has said he’d rather not testify, but that he will do if asked.

The case, as they say, continues.