Michael Jackson, once hailed the King of Pop, died in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009, the eve of his 51st birthday. The official cause of his death was recorded as a fatal overdose of a combination of the powerful, hospital-grade anesthetic propofol and the anti-anxiety drug lorzepam. After the autopsy, the Los Angeles County Coroner concluded that the superstar’s death was a homicide.
All fingers pointed to Dr. Conrad Murray as the murderer.
Michael met Dr. Murray in 2006, when the singer contacted the doctor and asked him to treat one of his children for a medical problem. Prior to that meeting, Dr. Conrad was in dire financial straits. The doctor had tax liens levied against him, he was facing lawsuits for unpaid debts, he still owed parties money from court settlements, and he also owed unpaid child support.
A few years later, Michael was preparing and rehearsing for his "comeback" tour titled This Is It, which was scheduled to begin in London about a month before the tragedy unfolded. The tragic irony of the situation was that Michael Jackson was paying Dr. Murray $150,000 a month to be his personal physician to keep a close eye on his health and physical well-being.
Shortly after his death, it was discovered that Michael Jackson had a penchant for prescription drugs. Perhaps it was a bit too tempting for the doctor not to bend medical protocol to keep his patient happy at any cost, and to keep that astounding paycheck pouring in every 30 days.
The trial opened with a shocking photo of Michael Jackson’s dead body in a hospital gurney and a photo of his naked body from his autopsy. The crux of the trial focused on whether Dr. Murray acted recklessly to provide Jackson in his home with a powerful sedative that is typically used in hospitals with extensive monitoring, along with a battery of other prescription drugs.
Murray never testified at his own trial; his previous statements to law enforcement were submitted as his sole testimony. Jackson suffered from intractable insomnia. Murray said he routinely administered propofol intravenously to Jackson in his bedroom, in order to help the singer sleep. Michael affectionately referred to this liquid drug as "mother’s milk." The doctor admitted that he administered the propofol IV injection almost every night for 2 months leading up to the singer’s death, and contended that he was actually trying to wean Michael off the drug by providing him with other sedatives.
Prosecutors argued that the doctor was willing to give Jackson anything he wanted in return for his $150,000-per-month paycheck. The prosecution argued that Dr. Murray did not follow accepted medical practice, that he left Jackson unmonitored and unattended with a powerful anesthetic dripping into his vein, and that he also failed to call 911 in a timely manner.
The doctor denied all charges and went so far as to claim that Michael Jackson administered the propofol IV himself, when Murray was out of the room. The doctor reported that when he returned to Michael’s bedroom the night of his death, he saw Michael lying on his bed unconscious and not breathing. Murray said he then checked Michael’s pulse and it was barely detectable. Murray went on to say that he then administered CPR to Jackson. The court did not believe Murray’s side of the story.
A Despicable Tactic by a Desperate Doctor
In a bizarre twist, the doctor’s defense entered a recording of a phone conversation between Michael Jackson and the doctor that was recorded on Dr. Murray’s phone. Jackson sounded so drugged up that his slurred words could barely be understood. The tactic backfired. Judge Michael E. Pastor later admonished Murray for entering the recording as evidence, lamenting: "That tape recording was Dr. Murray’s insurance policy. It was designed to record his patient surreptitiously at that patient’s most vulnerable point." The judge referred to the recording as a "horrific violation of trust," and questioned, "What value would be placed on that tape recording if it were to be released?"
Michael Jackson’s family brought a civil suit against Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the company that was promoting Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour, and that actually hired Dr. Conrad Murray, arguing that AEG was negligent not only in hiring the doctor, but in failing to supervise him. AEG was found not guilty of the charge.
The trial lasted 6 weeks. On June 25, 2009, Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. He was also accused of not properly supervising his patient and not following medical protocol after discovering Michael had stopped breathing (ie, failing to call 911 in a timely manner). Exhibiting no emotion when the guilty verdict was read by the court clerk, the defiant doctor turned away from the judge after his sentencing and declined to make any kind of a statement. He never addressed the judge, jurors, media, or the victim’s family.
Michael Jackson’s family prepared a statement that was read to the judge before Dr. Conrad’s sentencing. The statement pleaded for the judge to "impose a sentence that reminds physicians they cannot sell their services to the highest bidder."
Dr. Conrad Murray was sentenced to 4 years in prison, which was the maximum allowable punishment for that particular crime. Because of his notoriety, Dr. Murray was put in a high-security section of prison, isolating him from the general population for his protection.
Dr. Conrad Murray was released from prison the morning of October 28, 2013, having served only 2 years of his 4-year sentence because of a recent state law aimed at easing prison overcrowding.
Here are some excerpts from the trial transcripts:
Prosecutor David Walgren:
"He [Michael Jackson] trusted he would be cared for by Conrad Murray so he would see another day."
"…playing Russian roulette with Michael Jackson’s life every single night"
Judge Michael Pastor, referring to Dr. Murray’s actions while treating Jackson:
"…unquestionably violated the trust and confidence of his patient."
"…violated his sworn oath for money, fame, prestige."
"Public safety demands that he be remanded."
"…recurring, continuous pattern of deceit and lies."
"…longstanding failure of character."
"…cycle of horrible medicine."
"To hear Dr. Murray say it, Dr. Murray was a bystander."
"Talk about blaming the victim. Not only is there not any remorse, there’s umbrage and outrage."
- Conrad Murray. Biography Web site. http://www.biography.com/people/conrad-murray-481814.
- Delusional ex-doc thinks MJ death verdict vindicates him. TMZ Web site. October 3, 2013. http://www.tmz.com/2013/10/03/conrad-murray-reaction-to-michael-jackson-wrongful-death-trial-verdict/.
- Medina J. Jackson’s doctor is sentenced to four years. New York Times Web site. November 29, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/us/michael-jacksons-doctor-sentenced-to-four-years.html?_r=0.
- Michael Jackson. New York Times Web site. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/j/michael_jackson/index.html.
- Michael Jackson’s doctor guilty. ABC News Web site. November 7, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/US/michael-jacksons-doctor-guilty/story?id=14880567.