When 58-year-old Trinidad-Tobago-born Dr. Conrad Murray entered Michael Jackson’s bedroom around 10:00 a.m. in morning of June 25, 2009, he panicked, finding the 50-year-old pop singer icon not breathing, most likely dead. What happened in the flurry next was fairly well-documented, though the defense claims Murray did everything to save Jackson’s life. What the $150,000 a month personal physician didn’t do was call 911, instead waiting about an hour before calling Los Angeles County Paramedics. Shortly after paramedics transferred the lifeless singer to UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, Murray disappeared from public view, only to reemerge some 24 hours later to answer questions from LAPD detectives. Since then, Murray plead not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges, allowing his defense team, led by Houston based criminal defense lawyer Ed Chernoff, to do the talking.
Posturing before the upcoming Sept. 8 trial, Chernoff tried but failed to get Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor to sequester jurors. No jurors had been sequestered since the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial. Chernoff warned against trying the case in the “court of public opinion,” biasing jurors from rendering a fair verdict. “I expect that jurors will follow the high road and that means that they will not be in the receipt of or in contact with information regarding this case,” said Pastor, rejecting Chernoff’s request to quarantine jurors. In more recent developments, Chernoff tried to get Pastor to admit testimony of more than a dozen defense witnesses, all of whom willing to testify about Jackson’s alleged past drug abuse and child molestation. Chernoff had in mind to discredit Jackson by demonstrating his longstanding drug problems and prosecution for child molestation.
Calling his case “gutted,” Chernoff complained that Pastor was denying his client a right to a rigorous defense. Screening certain witnesses makes it more difficult for Chernoff to paint Jackson as a craven drug addict who, in a fit of desperation, overdosed himself on Propofol, causing his own death. Los Angeles DA prosecutors claim that Chernoff’s client, Dr. Conrad Murray, administered a lethal dose of Propofol and other dangerous drugs to Jackson in a makeshift operating room. Prosecutors claim that Murray, a self-proclaimed cardiologist but uncertified by any reputable medical board, administered the lethal dose. Chernoff must defend Murray against reckless professional behavior and gross negligence administering Propofol for Jackson’s chronic insomnia. Chernoff must show the jury that Murray acted responsibly administering intravenous Propofol for Jackson’s sleep disorder.
Chernoff hoped to show the jury that Michael’s longstanding substance abuse created the vulnerability that left him inadvertently dead. He must prove that either Jackson himself or a cumulative toxicity resulted in his death. Without calling up his choice witness list, Chernoff feels Pastor “gutted” his defense, primarily focused on attacking Jackson’s credibility. Chernoff’s defense strategy involved convincing jurors that Jackson overdosed on Propofol in a final “desperate act.” Pastor called such testimony distracting to the prosecutor’s claim that Murray administered the fatal dose of Propofol to treat Jackson’s insomnia. Since there’s no known medical treatment for insomnia using anesthesia like Propofol, they’re questioning Murray’s judgment and standard-of-care. Prosecutors contend that administering Propofol for insomnia constituted gross negligence.
Pastor did his utmost in pre-trail hearings to prevent prejudicial evidence from contaminating the jury. “Discussions of these subject matters are sufficiently convoluted, distracting and detracting as to substantially outweigh any probative value whatsoever,” Pastor told Chernoff, trying to avoid the contaminating influences seen in the O.J. trial. Chernoff hoped to present evidence of Jackson’s financial problems and alleged past child molestation to demonstrate the pop singer’s desperate state. Pastor refused to allow Chernoff to examine Jackson’s dermatologist Arnold Klein who apparently prescribed Demerol [synthetic morphine] for Jackson’s chronic pain. Chernoff also wanted to show Jackosn was in full-on withdrawal at the time of his death, taking the heat off Murray. Before the trial began, Pastor shot down many of the defense’s best theories to exonerate Murray of involuntary manslaughter.
Judge Pastor has to be concerned about disobeying his orders for the purpose of awarding a mistrial. Prosecutors recently defied the judge’s pre-trial instructions July 14 in the steroid perjury trial of former baseball ace Roger Clemmons, promptly causing a mistrial. Murray’s defense team could pull the same stunt for Murray. Chernoff vowed to “soldier on” working the jury to create reasonable doubt. “This is no-go territory as far as this trial,” said Pastor, insisting that the defense must abide by his ruling to keep prejudicial evidence out of his courtroom. “If we go to a tank battle with a switchblade, that is exactly what we’ll do,” said Chernoff, vowing to give Murray the best possible defense. On medical and legal grounds, Chernoff knows he faces an uphill battle. With no medical precedent for treating insomnia with anesthesia, Chernoff must pull a rabbit out of his hat.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.