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Michael Jackson Doctor Case Gets Under Way

February 8, 2010
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

After an eight-month police investigation into Michael Jackson's death, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office finally filed a criminal case against Jackson's former live-in physician, Dr. Conrad Murray.

Because of the intense media interest in the case, the DA took the unusual step of announcing charges in advance in a press release last Friday, although the statement left out the specific crimes that would be lodged against Murray.

The cardiologist has now been charged with involuntary manslaughter for administering the combination of sedatives and anesthetic that the L.A. Coroner determined to be the cause of the singer's June 2009 death.

Murray administered the powerful anesthetic propofol to the singer and took a nearly 50-minute break during which he called his girlfriend.

The doctor acknowledged to police that he gave Jackson an intravenous dose of the drug shortly before his death, according to court documents. The drug is intended for use in operating rooms by trained anesthesiologists.

Murray's prosecution will be one of the most high profile criminal cases since Jackson himself faced child molestation charges in a Santa Barbara courtroom in 2005.

Prosecutors will have the edge in the media battle that inevitably accompanies these kinds of cases. They will have the Jackson family; the majority of the print, television, and radio coverage; and the public on their side.

The key issue in the case is whether Murray was criminally negligent in administering the operating room sedative propofol. Expert anesthesiologists are already being lined up by the DA, who will condemn the use of the drug and the lack of proper precautions and personnel in the Jackson home when the powerful sedative was administered by Murray.

If the case makes it to the trial stage, Murray’s lawyers will have a laundry list of measures (change of venue, gag orders, jury sequestration, etc.) that they will ask the court for in order to protect their client from the intense media exposure the case will undoubtedly generate.

The defense team will try to poke holes in the causation argument and attempt to portray Murray as a well-intentioned physician who was trying to help his celebrity client.

Murray had told police that Jackson had a long history of using propofol to fall asleep. He also claimed to investigators that he was attempting to wean Jackson off of the substance the week that he died.

It is therefore likely that we will see the defense portray Murray as a doctor who was valiantly trying to help a drug addicted celebrity break free from his habit.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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