Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trial of Conrad Murray

The Prosecution's Case

On September 27, 2011, jurors began hearing the evidence against Conrad Murray. In his opening statement, prosecutor David Walgren told the jury that Murray was a money-hungry doctor who knocked Jackson out with propofol at the patient's request, despite the fact that propofol was a highly-dangerous drug that should only be used in a hospital setting. Murray's lead attorney Ed Chernoff responded by telling the court that the small amounts of sedatives Murray admitted to giving Jackson could not have killed him. Instead, Chernoff argued that Michael Jackson himself must have woken up when Murray had left the room to use the bathroom and self-administered fatal doses of propofol and a second sedative (lorazepam).

A Peek Into Jackson's Life

Through testimony, courtwatchers were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the King of Pop's troubles as he attempted to ready himself for his comeback tour.

Several members of Jackson's security team testified about their elaborate procedure traveling for rehearsals: a convoy of three Escalades would drive Jackson back and forth to Staples Center, and the singer would roll down his windows to say hello to his fans.

Kai Chase, Jackson's personal chef, gave an account of the typical foods she made for Jackson and his children. The family would eat a healthy breakfast of granola and almond milk and Jackson would snack on fruit smoothies throughout the day. The Jacksons would often eat lunch as a family. On June 25, 2009, Chase had prepared a lunch of spinach salad and organic turkey breast. Michael Jackson would not live to eat it.

Jackson Dies Under Mysterious Circumstances

Prosecutor David Walgren
Prosecutor David Walgren

Several witnesses were called to paint a picture of Jackson's final day. Jackson returned from rehearsal at 1 a.m. on June 25, and went up to his bedroom where Conrad Murray was waiting — as he had been virtually every night for the past two months. Only that morning, Jackson didn't wake up. Instead, Murray called Jackson's security a little after noon to say that the singer had suffered a "bad reaction" and to come to the bedroom immediately.

Alberto Alvarez, a security guard, was the first to the room. Murray asked him to call 911. Alvarez said that Murray then made another request: he had him stash several medicine bottles and an IV bag he said contained a bottle of propofol in it.

Paramedic Richard Senneff said he arrived at the Jackson home just five minutes after getting the call. He said that Murray told him that he had given Jackson a few oral sedatives — but never mentioned giving him any propofol. After 40 minutes of resuscitation attempts, Jackson was ambulanced to UCLA Medical Center, where two doctors again asked Murray what he had administered to Jackson. Again, Murray did not tell them about propofol.

Murray's Own Words

On June 27, 2009, Conrad Murray sat down for an interview with police. That conversation was taped and played for the jury. Murray said that he did not understand the extent of Jackson's insomnia when he came to California to serve as personal physician. Murray said that Jackson insisted that he be given propofol — which he called "milk" for its white color. And for months, Murray gave Jackson what he wanted, until three days before the death when Murray tried to wean Jackson off the dangerous sedative.

For two nights, Murray recalled, Jackson slept without propofol. But in the wee hours of June 25, nothing seemed to be working. Murray said he gave Jackson a valium at 1 a.m., then two doses of two other sedatives (lorazepam and midazolam) later. By 10 a.m., Jackson had still not settled into a peaceful sleep. Murray said Jackson begged him for "milk", saying that his rehearsals would be shot and the concerts put in jeopardy if the singer could not rest. Murray said he finally relented and gave a relatively small dose (25 mg) of propofol. Murray said he sat at Jackson's bedside for 10-15 minutes to make sure there were no complications.

Once he believed Jackson had settled into a healthy sleep, he left the room to go to the bathroom. When he returned, he was shocked to find Jackson was not breathing.

Medical Evidence

Anesthesiologist Steven Shafer
Anesthesiologist Steven Shafer

Prosecutors called a string of medical experts to say that Conrad Murray acted more like an employee of Jackson than his doctor. By allowing the patient to dictate a dangerous treatment, Murray committed gross negligence and was thus a major contributor to Jackson's death. Dr. Alon Steinberg analyzed the case for the California Medical Board and concluded that Murray was negligent in leaving Jackson unmonitored even to go to the bathroom. He likened the situation to leaving a sleeping baby on the kitchen counter — likely nothing would happen, but a responsible parent would never take that chance.

Dr. Steven Shafer, a prominent anesthesiologist, cited 17 separate egregious deviations, including: using propofol as a sleep medication without any emergency medical equipment or back-up personnel, and not keeping medical records. Dr. Shafer came up with his own theory of how Jackson died with such elevated levels of propofol in his system: he supposed that Murray had set up a continuous IV drip of propofol to keep Jackson sedated — and then didn't realize his patient had lost consciousness. Even as Jackson stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating, the propofol was still flowing into his body.

After 33 witnesses over 16 days, the State rested its case-in-chief. Next it is the defense's turn to convince the jury that Conrad Murray was an innocent man.

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