A tearful nurse told the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor that her efforts to save the singer from the drug he craved for sleep were rebuffed by the star, who insisted he needed the powerful anaesthetic that eventually killed him.
Cherilyn Lee, a nurse practitioner who tried to shift Jackson to holistic sleep aids in the months before he died, said the singer told her Dipravan, a brand name for propofol, was the only thing that would knock him out and induce the sleep he needed.
He told Ms Lee he had experienced the drug once during surgery.
Ms Lee almost did not give evidence, sitting down in the witness box then saying she felt dizzy, before starting to cry.
“This is just very sensitive for me,” she said.
Los Angeles Superior Court judge Michael Pastor had her taken to another room to rest, and she returned 20 minutes later saying she felt better.
She became tearful again while saying that she had warned Jackson, 50, not to take the drug.
The day was also marked by poignant evidence from the head of AEG, the concert giant that planned Jackson’s ill-fated This Is It shows in London.
Randy Phillips, the company president and chief executive officer who first proposed the concert to Jackson, said the star was excited and committed to restarting his career in London, where he could settle down with his children on a country estate “so they wouldn’t be living as vagabonds”.
“It was emotional,” said Mr Phillips. “I cried.”
“Did he cry?” asked defence lawyer Ed Chernoff.
“Yes,” Mr Phillips said softly.
Ms Lee told of coming into Jackson’s life at the beginning of 2009 and leaving just before Dr Conrad Murray arrived. Murray, who denies involuntary manslaughter, is accused of giving Jackson a fatal dose of the drug Ms Lee would not give him.
Ms Lee recalled a meeting with the superstar at his rented mansion two months before his death in June 2009.
“He was sitting very close to me,” she said. “He looked at me and said, ’I have a lot of difficulty sleeping. I’ve tried a lot of things and I need something that will make me fall asleep right away. I need Dipravan.”
Ms Lee had never heard of the drug but did research and later told Jackson it was too dangerous to use at home.
At one point she asked: “What if you didn’t wake up?”
Jackson, however, was adamant the drug would be safe if he had a doctor who could monitor him while he slept.
Prosecutors claim Murray abandoned Jackson after administering the fatal dose of propofol and failed to have proper life-saving and monitoring equipment on hand.
Ms Lee was called to the stand by Murray’s defence, but the impact of her evidence was mixed.
While she supported a defence theory that Jackson was doctor-shopping in a desperate search for someone to give him propofol, a prosecutor seized on her warning to show Murray should also have known the dangers and refused the request by Jackson.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor David Walgren, Ms Lee acknowledged a conversation with Jackson in which she told him: “No one who cared or had your best interest at heart would give you this.”
She said her final refusal to provide the drug came on April 19 2009, and she never saw Jackson again.
Another medical witness, Dr Allan Metzger, said on Monday that Jackson also implored him to provide the anaesthetic. Dr Metzger refused and instead gave the singer sleeping pills that had proven effective in the past.
Lawyers for Murray, a Houston, Texas-based cardiologist, are trying to show that Jackson was a strong-willed celebrity who became the architect of his own demise when he insisted on getting the intravenous drug. They also say he gave himself the fatal dose after Murray left his bedroom.
Lee said she had treated Jackson for nutrition and energy issues as he prepared for his planned series of This Is It comeback concerts.
She was followed to the witness stand by Mr Phillips, who said Jackson saw the series of appearances at the 02 Arena in London as a new beginning.
He said Jackson agreed to the plan with a few caveats: He wanted his own doctor to travel with him and a lavish country home for him and the children, complete with streams and horses.
But in June, 2009, only weeks before they were to leave for London, Mr Phillips said This Is It director Kenny Ortega became concerned about Jackson’s absence from some rehearsals and there was a meeting of Jackson, Murray and the organisers.
He said Murray spoke for Jackson at the meeting and said he was in good health and would be fine for the concert tour.
Murray’s defence wanted to question Mr Phillips about Jackson’s contract, in a bid to show he would have owed 40 million dollars to the promoter if the concerts were cancelled. Jackson, desperate to make sure the shows continued, needed sleep to get through his rehearsals, they contended.
But Judge Pastor said there was no evidence Jackson was concerned about the money. “This is not a contractual dispute. This is a homicide case,” he said.