By: Houston Criminal Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair.
How do you save someone determined to destroy himself?
That question will surely be in the mind of most jurors who will ultimately decide the personal and professional fate of Dr. Conrad Murray, a Houston cardiologist, who was formally charged on February 8, 2010 with involuntary manslaughter in Los Angeles in connection with Michael Jackson’s death. Murray was the superstar’s personal physician last June when he administered the powerful anesthetic propofol and two sedatives to help Jackson, a renowned insomniac, get some sleep. The sleep aids put the pop singer to sleep permanently.
Michael Jackson was an exceedingly complex individual. His life was a tragic chronicle of drug use and abuse. He did things to his own life (and to the lives of others) that would have destroyed most other mere mortals. Despite a host of admirable personal qualities and an immeasurable amount of professional talent, he was a living portrait of self-destruction. He had been warned on several occasions about the dangers of using propofol. It is one of the most powerful and dangerous drugs that can be administered to the human body outside a very tightly-controlled medical environment. Jackson was still willing to risk his life on a regular basis by taking the drug because it helped him sleep when, in actuality, it didn’t help him sleep; it simply rendered him unconscious.
Dr. Conrad Murray was born to a poor single mother nearly 57 years ago in Grenada, a small Caribbean island made famous by former President Ronald Reagan’s military invasion of it in 1983 called Operation Urgent Fury. He lived with his grandparents on the island until he was seven when his mother returned and took him with her to Trinidad where she had gone shortly after the boy’s birth in search of work. Despite being reared in a drug-infested and crime-plagued area of Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital, young Murray resisted all the temptations of crime and drugs to become well-known as an honest and responsible person in the neighborhood.
Citing the British tabloid, The Daily Mall, the Houston Chronicle reported recently that as a young boy Murray went into a store where he found a woman had left her bag. He took the bag and after he got home, the young boy found it contained $3100. He searched for and found the owner of the bag and returned the money to her, according former neighbor Krishndath Saroop. Murray went on to graduate from high school on the small island after which he worked hard at a number of jobs, including an elementary school teacher, before saving enough money to pay for his education in the United States.
In 1978 Murray met his father, a prominent private-care physician who lived in Houston, The elder Murray, Dr. Rawle Andrews, had also become a well-respected activist in the Acres Homes community. The younger Murray was so impressed with his father that he followed him to Houston where he enrolled in Texas Southern University and in three years graduated magna cum laude with a degree in pre-medicine and biological science.
Inspired by his father’s success as a physician, Conrad Murray enrolled in the predominantly black Meharry Medical College in Nashville and, according to the Chronicle, went on to get his cardiology training in southern California. Murray eventually settled in Las Vegas with his wife where he established an unblemished professional record although his personal life was tarnished by paternity suits, financial problems, and court judgments. It was during this tumultuous period in his personal life that he met Michael Jackson after treating one of the singer’s children.
Jackson, who was preparing a major career comeback, retained Murray as his personal physician at a fee of $150,000 a month in early 2009. The doctor’s job was not only to monitor Jackson’s overall fragile health but to treat Jackson’s insomnia. Jackson, who had a history of using propofol, insisted that part of Murray’s treatment include regular injections of the dangerous anesthetic. According to all reputable media accounts, as well as law enforcement revelations, Murray purchased the drug legally and administered it under as controlled conditions as private care would allow.
But last June 25th something went awry. Murray administered the drug as he had done on other occasions and mixed it with two other sedatives. He left Jackson’s bedroom briefly, and upon returning, discovered the mega star was unconscious and not breathing. An ambulance and paramedics were summoned but all attempts to revive the music icon proved futile.
Dr. Murray immediately became the target of law enforcement interest and the object of media scrutiny. He retained the legal presentation of a respected Houston criminal attorney named Ed Chernoff who is a former assistant U.S. Attorney. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office subsequently ruled Jackson’s cause of death was homicide and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office began building its case for the involuntary manslaughter charge against Dr. Murray.
Involuntary manslaughter is the lowest grade of homicide in the State of California. Section 192(b) of the California Penal Code defines involuntary manslaughter as “involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection,” such as in a disregard for human life.
No one seriously believes that Dr. Conrad Murray intentionally killed Michael Jackson. Legal experts have collectively stated that prosecutors in the Jackson case will have a difficult time convincing jurors that Dr. Murray took risks he should not have taken; risks that other doctors would not have taken. Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School, told CNN that “it’s not the same as malpractice” and to prove that Dr. Murray’s action were criminally negligent, prosecutors will have to show those actions were “really extreme” and he took them “for no good reason.”
That will be a difficult task, particularly since Dr. Murray reportedly told investigators early on that he had become concerned about Jackson being addicted to propofol; that he gave the singer 25 milligrams of the drug because he was trying to wean him off of it. But Levenson said prosecutors will probably offset this mitigating factor by saying the doctor was aware the drug was harmful and should not have administered it at all. “If your thinking like a prosecutor, you can say he was completely on notice about the dangers of propofol,” Levenson told CNN. “He cut back the amount. He knew he was dealing with a very dangerous drug. Yet he administered it in Jackson’s house without the proper medical equipment.”
But Murray’s defense team will counter that the doctor was not the first physician to give Jackson’s propofol who liked to call the drug his “milk.” Jackson reportedly retained physicians to provide him with what he believed was the only successful treatment for his insomnia: propofol “milk.”
The trial will certainly be an opera of dueling experts as prosecutors try to convince jurors that Dr. Murray was negligent in the extreme while the defense counters with experts saying the doctor’s administration of the drug were not so negligent as to be considered criminal. As Professor Levenson put it: “Involuntary manslaughter is for clueless defendants. It’s the ultimate should-have-known-better charge. And the way you prove that is to put on a bunch of experts and independent witnesses to say he should have known better.” But as Professor Levenson also pointed out: “What the defense is going to do is drum up every doctor who ever gave strong medications to Michael Jackson and say, ‘See, they did the same thing and he never had a reaction before.”
This case will come down to jury selection. The prosecution will try to select jurors its feels have empathy for Michael Jackson while the defense will pursue jurors who place value on responsible individual conduct, something, given the apparent addiction to prescription drugs, Jackson failed to exhibit. Both sides will get some of what it wants in the jury selection process—and this will inevitably increase the likelihood of a hung jury. The experts can say all they want and the jurors can be instructed to consider only the evidence presented from the witness stand but because Jackson’s death received such massive media coverage and his life was a perpetual tragic drama known to virtually every prospective juror, most of the jurors will enter into deliberations with their preconceived feelings about the case firmly intact. The verdict, thus, will largely depend not upon the evidence but upon the force and personality of either the pro-Jackson or anti-Jackson jurors.
As Dr. Murray was being led into the Los Angeles County courtroom the Jackson family lamented to the media that the involuntary manslaughter charge was not harsh enough. Like one of the spectators who called Murray a “murderer,” the Jackson family, and some supporters, believe the doctor should have been charged with a higher grade of homicide.
On the other hand, Houston minister Rev. F.N. Williams, who is pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, told the Houston Chronicle that he believes Dr. Murray is being used as a “scapegoat” for the other doctors who supplied drugs to Jackson. “It’s all hype,” the pastor told the newspaper. “He just happened to be a doctor on the scene at the wrong time. We are behind him, the whole Acres Homes community. He’s our doctor.”
Jurors reflecting those two positions will be selected by the prosecution and defense to decide Dr. Murray’s fate, which could mean a sentence of up to four years in prison. Jurors will get to know each other quickly and will come understand each other’s position in the case. They will face off with entrenched emotional feelings that may have nothing to do with the facts or evidence. While jurors are sworn to a strict duty to make a decision based solely on the evidence presented at the trial and the law as given to them by the judge, emotions are often what decide most high profile celebrity cases.
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair.