The case of Michael Jackson’s doctor was placed in a jury’s hands after contentious legal arguments over who was to blame for the superstar’s death - the celebrity who craved sleep at any cost or the doctor accused of providing the drugs that killed him.
In final statements delivered in a packed courtroom, a defence lawyer cast Dr Conrad Murray as a victim of Jackson’s celebrity, saying he never would have been charged with involuntary manslaughter if his patient was someone other than Jackson.
“They want you to convict Dr Murray for the actions of Michael Jackson,” lawyer Ed Chernoff said.
“This is not a reality show. It is reality.”
Prosecutor David Walgren portrayed Murray as a liar and greedy opportunist who put his own welfare before that of Jackson.
“Conrad Murray is criminally liable for the death of Michael Jackson,” he told jurors. “Not because it was Michael Jackson but because Conrad Murray is guilty of criminal negligence.”
Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor submitted the case to jurors after a full day of arguments and told them to begin deliberations today.
If convicted, Murray could receive a minimum sentence of probation or a maximum of four years. He would be unlikely to serve that much time, however, because of jail overcrowding.
Earlier, Mr Walgren, in a carefully structured argument enhanced by video excerpts of witness testimony, spoke of the special relationship between a doctor and patient and said Murray had corrupted it by giving Jackson the anaesthetic propofol as a sleep aid.
He ridiculed the defence theory that Jackson had injected himself with the fatal dose of the anaesthetic and denounced the testimony of defence expert Paul White, who blamed Jackson for his own death.
“What you were presented by Dr White was junk science. It was garbage science,” Mr Walgren said.
Mr Chernoff countered that Dr Steven Shafer, a propofol expert who testified that evidence showed Murray killed Jackson, was wrong and overstepped his role as a scientist by becoming an advocate for Murray’s conviction.
He said Dr Shafer ignored Murray’s statement to police in which the physician said he gave the singer a small dose of propofol and left the room after the drug should have worn off.
Mr Walgren also projected images of Jackson’s grief-stricken children on a giant screen and told jurors that Murray took away their father.
With Jackson’s mother and siblings watching from the courtroom gallery, Mr Walgren showed a photo of Jackson at his last rehearsal before the picture of the three Jackson children – Prince, Paris and Blanket – at their father’s memorial.
He also reminded jurors of the scene in Jackson’s bedroom when Paris came upon Murray frantically trying to revive her lifeless father and screamed, “Daddy!”
“For Michael Jackson’s children, this case goes on forever because they do not have a father,” Mr Walgren said.
The prosecutor repeatedly called Murray’s treatment of Jackson bizarre and said there was no precedent for the cardiologist giving the singer propofol to help him sleep.
Still, Jackson trusted him, and that eventually cost the singer his life, Mr Walgren said.
“Conrad Murray looked out for himself and himself alone,” the prosecutor said.
Mr Walgren said Murray was more concerned with earning $150,000 a month as Jackson’s personal physician and travelling to London for his This Is It concert than with the welfare of his patient.
He cited evidence showing Murray did not call for help after finding Jackson unresponsive. Instead he called Jackson’s personal assistant, a decision the prosecutor said was just one of the doctor’s bizarre actions on the day the singer died.
He suggested Murray delayed the call until he could hide medical equipment and bottles that might incriminate him.
Even after paramedics arrived, the doctor made no mention of giving Jackson propofol because of “a consciousness of guilt”, Mr Walgren said.
The prosecutor also played statements of several doctors who testified that they never would have agreed to give Jackson propofol for insomnia in a private home.
“The setting represents an extreme violation of the standard of care,” Mr Walgren said. “No one ever did it until it was done to Michael Jackson. It is gross negligence and it is a cause of Michael Jackson’s death.”
At one point, Mr Walgren suggested Murray was conducting “an obscene experiment” on Jackson.
Mr Chernoff contended that prosecutors had not proven that Murray committed a crime by giving Jackson doses of propofol in the singer’s bedroom. He also suggested multiple prosecution witnesses had lied and that Dr Shafer was “a cop” with an agenda.
The prosecutor responded with sarcasm to Mr Chernoff’s claim that Murray was the victim in the case and listed an array of witnesses who had been blamed by the defence.
“Poor Conrad Murray,” he said repeatedly in a mocking tone. “Everyone is just allied against him.”
Mr Walgren told jurors the case is not complicated.
“What’s unusual,” he said, “is that Michael Jackson lived as long as he did under the care of Conrad Murray”.
With only Jackson and Murray present in the singer’s room on the day he died, there are things that will never be known about his death, Mr Walgren said. But he said it was clear that Murray, untrained in anaesthesiology, was incompetent.
“The people won’t prove exactly what happened behind those closed doors,” he said. “Michael Jackson could give answers, but he is dead.”