Lawyers for the doctor charged over Michael Jackson’s death have dropped their claim that the pop star swallowed a fatal dose of the anaesthetic propofol while his physician was not looking.
The allegation had been a key tactic in the defence of Dr Conrad Murray.
Lawyer J Michael Flanagan told the judge at the Los Angeles trial that he had commissioned a study about the effects of propofol if swallowed. Findings showed that any effect from swallowing propofol would be “trivial”, he said.
“We are not going to assert at any time during this trial that Michael Jackson orally administered propofol,” Mr Flanagan added.
It was unclear if the defence planned to argue that the singer might have injected himself with the fatal dose.
In recent days, Mr Flanagan has focused his questions to prosecution witnesses on the effect that the sedative lorazepam might have had on Jackson. Lorazepam was detected in his stomach contents after he died.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren and Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor appeared surprised by the disclosure, which was not made in front of jurors.
Lead defence lawyer Ed Chernoff said during opening statements on September 27 that his team would try to show that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose of propofol.
Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors are in the final stages of their case against Murray, with three expert witnesses set to testify about their impressions of Murray’s actions in the days and hours before Jackson’s death and his efforts to revive him.
Today, Mr Walgren called Dr Alon Steinberg, a cardiologist, who told jurors that Murray’s conduct violated the standard of care in several ways.
He said Murray lacked the propofol monitoring or life-saving equipment when he was giving Jackson the anaesthetic and other sedatives as a sleep aid.
Authorities say Murray gave Jackson a fatal dose of the surgical anaesthetic in June 2009.
A medical examiner told jurors yesterday that it was unreasonable to believe that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose of propofol when Murray left the room for only two minutes.
Dr Christopher Rogers, who carried out the post-mortem examination on the pop star, said it was more likely that Murray gave Jackson an overdose when he incorrectly estimated how much of the drug he was giving the singer to induce sleep to fight insomnia. He said Murray had no precision dosing device available in the bedroom of Jackson’s rented mansion.
“The circumstances, from my point of view, do not support self-administration of propofol,” said Dr Rogers, chief of forensic medicine at the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.
Murray told police he gave Jackson only 25 milligrams of the drug, a very small dose which would usually have kept him asleep for no more than five minutes.
Dr Rogers said he examined evidence found in Jackson’s bedroom and noted there was an empty 100 millilitre bottle of propofol.
Dr Rogers said the cause of death was “acute propofol intoxication and the contributing condition was the benzodiazepine effect”.
Two sedatives from that drug group – lorazepam and midazolam – were found in Jackson’s system after he died.
Dr Rogers also testified that it would be inappropriate to use propofol outside a hospital or medical clinic.
Mr Flanagan spent more than two hours yesterday trying to show on cross-examination that Jackson indeed could have self-administered drugs – not just propofol but the sedative lorazepam, which could be taken in pill form.
He suggested to the witness that once Murray had started an IV drip of propofol for Jackson and left the room, “it would be easy for someone to inject into that IV?”
“Yes,” Dr Rogers replied.
“But if they pushed it all at once, that can stop your heart, can’t it?” the lawyer asked.
“Yes,” said Dr Rogers.
The implication was that if Jackson was desperate for sleep and in a hurry to administer more propofol before his doctor returned, he might have given himself a fatal dose.
But Dr Rogers noted that investigators do not really know what happened when Murray left the room, so they were left to consider what is reasonable.