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Conrad Murray Trial: The Defense Drops Their Claim

Jackson Did Not Swallow Fatal Dose

LINDA DEUTSCH   10/12/11 09:16 PM ET   AP

LOS ANGELES — Dr. Conrad Murray's defense on Wednesday abandoned a theory that it touted for over a year that Michael Jackson swallowed the drug that killed him, an abrupt shift in strategy that potentially undermines its case.

The reason was clear: The defense had learned that its claim that the singer swallowed the anesthetic propofol while Murray was out of the room in June 2009 can't be supported with scientific evidence.

The developments, along with a medical expert's repudiation of Murray's medical skills, suggested that the defense must recoup significant lost ground in its bid to acquit him of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death.

Murray has pleaded not guilty. It was not clear whether the defense would still argue that Jackson gave himself a dose of the drug some other way, such as injecting it into an IV tube that was sending the drug into him.

"This is potentially devastating for the defense," said Manny Medrano, a former federal prosecutor who now practices criminal defense. Since the defense proposed in opening statements that Jackson may have self-administered propofol, he said, "that will become the elephant in the room for jurors."

Medrano said the 11th-hour switch shows "a lack of preparation and failure to really think the defense theory through."

Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor and prosecutor David Walgren appeared stunned when attorney Michael Flanagan arose in a hearing outside the jury's presence and announced the defense's decision.

"We are not going to assert at any point in this trial that Michael Jackson at any time orally ingested propofol," said Flanagan, who revealed he had commissioned his own study about oral ingestion of the drug. He said the study concluded that it would not be absorbed into the body when ingested.

The defense first offered the theory that Jackson swallowed the fatal dose at last year's preliminary hearing. Both in and out of court, attorneys suggested that the singer may have poured some into fruit juice and drank it. Experts have testified this week that the theory was unreasonable.

Jurors have seen charts which note that a small amount of propofol was found in Jackson's stomach, but Flanagan told the judge on Wednesday the method of oral ingestion was not specifically mentioned in openings.

Flanagan's recent questions to witnesses indicated that he might now say that Jackson swallowed pills on his bedside table, specifically the sedative lorazepam. If they do focus on the sedative, they would be challenging the coroner's ruling that propofol killed the singer.

Moments after Flanagan's announcement, the jury was reconvened and a prosecution expert took the stand, saying that Murray was guilty of extreme deviation from the standard of medical care practiced by physicians.

Murray was "responsible" for Jackson's death, said Dr. Alon Steinberg, a cardiologist from Ventura, Calif., who evaluated Murray's actions for the California Medical Board.

"If all of these deviations didn't happen, Michael Jackson might have been alive," he said.

Jurors listened and took notes as he enumerated six "extreme deviations" by Murray, including using propofol, a powerful anesthetic normally given through an IV in hospital settings, to treat insomnia.

"I have never heard of it," he said.

Dr. Nader Kamanger, a UCLA sleep expert, testified later Wednesday that Murray didn't appear to take any steps to diagnose why Jackson couldn't sleep. He agreed that propofol shouldn't be used as a sleep aid.

"It's beyond a departure from the standard of care into something unfathomable," he said.

Kamanger, who walked jurors through a guide to various causes of insomnia, said Jackson should have been tested physically and psychologically before any drugs were given. He was to return for cross-examination on Thursday.

Steinberg called Murray's behavior "strange" and said that the single most important thing he could have done to save Jackson was to call 9-1-1 when he found Jackson not breathing.

"Every minute counts," he said, adding that even a five-minute delay in calling could be the difference between life and death.

According to Murray's own statement to police, he waited at least 20 minutes before telling a security guard to call 9-1-1. In the meantime, he said, he was doing CPR. Steinberg said he was doing it wrong.

Legal experts had questioned the defense decision early on to allow Murray to talk to police detectives. His three-hour interview was played for jurors earlier this week and it turned out that Steinberg's assessment came from that interview.

Steinberg said he based his testimony and his evaluation of Murray for the board on "his own words."

In an odd twist, this led Flanagan to suggest during cross examination that Murray may have lied when he said he was gone from Jackson's side for only two minutes.

"Do you know for a fact Dr. Murray was gone longer than two minutes?" Flanagan asked.

"No" said the witness, who stressed he was relying on Murray's account.

When Steinberg said he believed Jackson was "savable" because Murray detected a pulse, the attorney asked, "How do you know that Dr. Murray checked the pulse?"

"Because he described it," Steinberg said.

Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., who won Jackson's acquittal of molestation charges and has been following the case closely, said it was a "very, very strong day" for the prosecution and the defense cross examination merely gave the expert a chance to reinforce his opinions.

"But remember the trial isn't over till it's over," he said. "The defense hasn't called a single witness yet."

Mesereau said the abandonment of the defense's central theory shows that "they're having a difficult time coming up with a viable explanation of why or how Michael Jackson would have caused his own death."

The defense's announcement came a day after a coroner testified that it was unreasonable to believe that Jackson could have swallowed the drug.

Defense attorneys have claimed that Murray is not to blame for Jackson's death because the singer, desperate for sleep, probably gave himself an extra dose when he was out of the room. They also suggested at one point that Jackson could have injected the drug into his IV line.

The coroner said that that was an unreasonable theory given that he was already groggy from sleep medication and the dose of propofol Murray had administered.

Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman said the lorazepam theory might be sufficient to give jurors an element of reasonable doubt.

"I think the defense had a better argument that Jackson got up and took all these pills and that in combination with whatever else was in his system did him in," said Goldman. If the jury is looking to the defense for reasonable doubt and want to acquit Murray, he said, that might help.

"It's not a lot to hang its hat on," he said, "but in a lot of criminal cases you have nothing."


AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.


McCartney can be reached at

Keep up with the Conrad Murray trial and the cast of courtroom characters with our who's who guide. All images courtesy of Getty.
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  • The Victim

    <strong>The Victim: </strong>Michael Jackson (shown here on March 5, 2009) <strong>Known Aliases:</strong> The King of Pop, Omar Arnold, Josephine Baker, Paul Farance, Bryan Singleton, and Prince - to name a few, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">TMZ</a>.

  • The Accused

    <strong>The Accused:</strong> Dr. Conrad Murray Dr. Murray was hired as Michael Jackson's personal physician for the 2009 <em>This Is It</em> concert tour. On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died of "acute propofol intoxication" in his Bel-Air home. Jackson was officially pronounced dead at UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Murray was at his side in the ambulance. Last year, Dr. Conrad Murray was charged with "involuntary manslaughter by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office," as reported by <a href="" target="_hplink">CNN</a>. The trial began on September 27, and is expected to last 5-6 weeks.

  • The Judge

    <strong>The Judge:</strong> Michael Pastor, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor was named Judge of the Year in 2007 by the LA County Bar Association, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">Radar Online</a>.

  • The Prosecution

    <strong>The Prosecution:</strong> David Walgren, Deputy District Attorney In his opening statement David Walgren stated, "It will be clear that Conrad Murray abandoned Michael when he needed help." Walgren is also known for writing the argument <em>against</em> Roman Polanski's effort to seek dismissal of the pending child-sex case against him, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">Fox</a>.

  • The Co-Counsel

    <strong>The Co-Counsel to the Prosecution:</strong> Deborah Brazil, Deputy District Attorney The fifteen-year veteran is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at <a href="" target="_hplink">Southwestern Law</a>, her alma mater.

  • The Defense

    <strong>The Defense:</strong> Ed Chernoff In the Texas-based Attorney's opening statements he asserted, "While Michael Jackson was frustrated because he could not sleep, frustrated because his doctor refused to give him a drug that he preferred, that he wanted, he did an act without his doctor's knowledge, without his doctor's permission."

  • The Co-Counsel

    <strong>The Co-Counsel to the Defense:</strong> J. Michael Flanagan and Nareg Gourjian (seen here with The Accused: Dr. Conrad Murray). Nareg Gourjian and J. Michael Flanagan defended Britney Spears in her 2007 hit-and-run case, reports ABC.

  • The Head Of Security

    <strong>The Head Of Security:</strong> Faheem Muhammad Muhammad witnessed Michael Jackson's children enter the bedroom crime scene. He testified that Paris Jackson was "on the ground, balled up crying," and Prince Jackson "was shocked," at the sight of his father.

  • The Security

    <strong>The Security:</strong> Alberto Alvarez Alvarez was the first staff member to enter Jackson's bedroom after Conrad Murray called for help. He testified to the series of events that took place in the bedroom, prior to the 911 call, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">OTRC</a>.

  • The Personal Assistant

    <strong>The Personal Assistant:</strong> Michael Amir Williams Michael Amir Williams alleges that Dr. Murray asked to return to the Jackson residence post-mordem to retrieve "some cream Michael wouldn't want the world to know about," reports ABC.

  • The Personal Chef

    <strong>The Personal Chef:</strong> Kai Chase Chase claims Dr. Murray ran to get her in the kitchen around lunch time, yelling "Get Prince, get help, get security." Dr. Murray didn't ask Chase to dial 911, according to her testimony.

  • The #1 Paramedic

    <strong>The #1 Paramedic:</strong> Richard Senneff Senneff testified that Michael Jackson could have been saved, but the paramedic claims he was given false information upon arriving at the scene. "When I first moved the patient, his skin was very cool to the touch. When I took a first glance at him, his eyes were open, they were dry and his pupils were dilated. When I hooked up the EKG machine, there was a flatline," which wouldn't have been the case if 911 has been called immediately upon finding Jackson, as reported by The BH Courier.

  • The #2 Paramedic

    <strong>The #2 Paramedic:</strong> Martin Blount Blount testified that Dr. Murray claimed Jackson was "dehydrated," reports <a href="" target="_hplink">TMZ</a>.

  • The Coroner Investigator

    <strong>The Coroner Investigator:</strong> Elissa Fleak, Los Angeles County Coroner's Office (seen in the background) Fleak testified that she found a "nearly-empty 20-milligram vial of propofol on the floor, as well as an empty bottle of flumazenil, which is used to treat benzodiazepine overdoses," at the crime scene, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">The Wrap</a>. Elissa Fleak also testified that she accidentally <em>touched</em> a syringe in Jackson's bedroom- leaving a thumbprint.

  • The ER Doctor

    <strong>The ER Doctor:</strong> Dr. Richelle Cooper Dr. Cooper testified that "Mr. Jackson died long before he became a patient." The <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>LA Times</em></a> reports that Dr. Cooper pronounced Jackson dead twice -- once on the phone (while Jackson was at home) and later at the hospital.

  • The Second ER Doctor

    <strong>The ER Doctor:</strong> Dr. Thao Nguyen, Cardiologist Dr. Nguyen testified that "when she pressed him for the time he had given the drug, he said he didn't know," reports the <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>LA Times</em></a>. "He said he did not have a watch," Dr. Nguyen said.

  • The Pharmacist

    <strong>The Pharmacist:</strong> Tim Lopez The Las Vegas pharmacist testified that he sent seven FedEx packages containing Propofol to an address in Santa Monica (belonging to Nicole Alvarez).

  • The Mistress

    <strong>The Mistress:</strong> Nicole Alvarez Alvarez is the mother's of Dr. Conrad Murray's son. She testified to receiving FedEx packages (containing Propofol, the prosecution argues) but was unaware of the contents and did not open them. She stated that she spoke to Dr. Murray the day Michael Jackson died -- she remembers Dr. Murray telling her "that he was on the way to the hospital in the ambulance with Mr. Jackson, and for me not to be alarmed."

  • The Houston Waitress

    <strong>The Houston Waitress:</strong> Sade Anding Sade spoke with Dr. Murray the morning of Michael's death. The waitress was on the phone with Dr. Murray for about five minutes before the line went silent. The <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>LA Times</em></a> reports, "I started telling him about my day, and that's when I realized he was no longer on the phone," Anding testified. "I was just talking, and the next thing, I said 'Hello hello,' and then I didn't hear anything."

  • The Nightclub Dancer

    <strong>The Nightclub Dancer:</strong> Michelle Bella Michelle Bella stated that she received a text (unrelated to Michael Jackson) from Dr. Murray the morning of Jackson's death, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">Hollywood Gossip</a>.

  • The Pursuer

    <strong>The Pursuer:</strong> Bridgette Morgan The <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>LA Times</em></a> reports that Morgan met Dr. Murray at a Las Vegas nightclub. She called Murray the morning of Jackson's death, but Dr. Murray didn't answer.

  • The Estate Attorney

    <strong>The Estate Attorney:</strong> Howard Weitzman Weitzman previously told <a href="" target="_hplink">TMZ</a>, "The Jackson family has NO rights to determine what charities receive money from Michael's Estate but Mrs. Jackson will certainly have input." Weitzman has represented John DeLorean, Marlon Brando, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  • The Co-Executor

    <strong>The Co-Executor:</strong> John Branca, Entertainment Lawyer In December 2010, the Jackson Estate was worth $310 million in gross revenues and it is Branca's responsibility to distribute and manage this sum. Branca has represented Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys.

  • The CEO

    <strong>The CEO:</strong> Paul Gongaware, Co-CEO of AEG Live Gongaware claims Dr. Murray demanded $5 million for his medical services, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">TMZ</a>. Gongaware did say that Jackson once returned from a visit to Dr. Arnold Klein "with a slower, slurred speech pattern," reports<a href="" target="_hplink"> CNN</a>. AEG is being sued by Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother, for negligent supervision of defendant Murray while he was tending to Michael.

  • The AEG Live Attorney

    <strong>The Attorney, AEG Live:</strong> Kathy Jorrie In her testimony, Jorrie said that Dr. Conrad Murray assured her, in two separate conversations, that Michael Jackson was, "perfectly healthy" and in "excellent condition."

  • The Former Manager

    <strong>The Former Manager:</strong> Frank DiLeo Five days before Jackson's death DiLeo suggests to Dr. Murray he "get a blood test from Jackson" because they had "to see what he's doing," reports CNN.

  • The Producer/ Director

    <strong>The Producer/ Director:</strong> Kenny Ortega The Producer/ Director of <em>This Is It</em> and the Staples Center Michael Jackson Public Memorial. One week before Jackson's death, Ortega testified "My friend wasn't right. There was something going on that was deeply troubling..." as reported by the <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>LA Times</em></a>.

  • The Former Patient

    <strong>The Former Patient:</strong> Robert Russell Russell, a sales manager for an electrical distribution firm, stated that as a patient of Dr. Murray's he "was getting the best care in the world."

  • The Dermatologist

    <strong>The Dermatologist:</strong> Dr. Arnold Klein Dr. Klein was once thought to be the biological father of Jackson's children (Klein <a href="" target="_hplink">denied this</a> to Diane Sawyer). The defense <a href="" target="_hplink">argues</a> that Klein is responsible for Jackson's addiction to Demerol injections - and hence Klein is responsible for Jackson's dependency on powerful narcotics (such as propofol).

  • The Sleep Specialist

    <strong>The Sleep Specialist:</strong> Dr. Nader Kamangar In Dr. Kamanger's testimony he asserted that Dr. Conrad Murray was to blame for Jackson's death, whether he administered the Propofol or if he left Jackson unattended with the sedative, the <em><a href=",0,3651620.story" target="_hplink">LA Times</a></em> reports. Photo: Getty

  • The Cardiologist

    <strong>The Cardiologist:</strong> Dr. Alon Steinberg Dr. Steinberg expressed that "When [doctors] monitor a patient, you never leave their side, especially after giving propofol. It's like leaving a baby that's sleeping on your kitchen countertop," reports the <a href=",0,3651620.story" target="_hplink"><em>LA Times</em></a>. Steinberg is one of the witnesses expected to dissolve the defense's medical arguments. Photo: Getty

  • The Autopsy Doctor

    <strong>The Autopsy Doctor:</strong> Dr. Christopher Rogers Dr. Rogers was the autopsy doctor that ruled Michael Jackson's death a homicide. Dr. Christopher Rogers claims that the scenario presented by the defense is nearly impossible, reports <a href="" target="_hplink">TMZ</a>. Photo: Getty

  • The Toxicologist

    <strong>The Toxicologist:</strong> Dan Anderson During Anderson's time on the witness stand, the defense bombarded the Toxicologist. Flanagan and Anderson were debating what a theraputic level of a sedative was before Flanagan asked, "Well, the propofol is within therapeutic range also, isn't it?" To which Anderson replied, "I said it's within a therapeutic range in a proper setting. This is not a proper setting," reports <a href="" target="_hplink">Fox LA</a>. Photo: Getty

  • The LAPD Detective

    <strong>The LAPD Detective:</strong> Scott Smith Smith and Detective Orlando Martinez interviewed Dr. Conrad Murray two days after Jackson's death at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Rey, reports The Daily Beast. At this point, the death had not yet been labeled a homicide. The defense argues that Smith took inadequate notes during this interview. Photo: Getty


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