Prosecutors Wind Down Case Against Jackson Doctor

Prosecutors plan to wrap up their case against the doctor charged in Michael Jackson’s death by calling three experts intended to help jurors make sense of the complex medical evidence they have been presented.

Prosecutors told a judge overseeing the involuntary manslaughter case against Dr. Conrad Murray that their remaining witnesses will include experts in cardiology, pulmonary and sleep issues and a leading researcher on the anesthetic propofol, which is blamed in the pop star’s death, a transcript shows.

The government’s case against Murray may conclude late this week or early next, although an exact timetable remains unclear. Murray’s defense attorneys are likely to vigorously challenge the experts, especially Dr. Steven Shafer, a researcher and Columbia University professor who will be called upon to explain propofol and its effects.

Deputy District Attorney David Walgren told a judge he plans to call Shafer as his final witness.

Murray’s attorneys are expected to present a defense case that includes their own witness on propofol.

Authorities say Murray gave Jackson a fatal dose of the surgical anesthetic in June 2009. Murray has pleaded not guilty in the case. The Houston-based cardiologist’s lawyers say that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose.

Photo: AP Photo
Deputy D.A. David Walgren holds a bag of evidence during Conrad Murray’s involuntary manslaughter trial in downtown Los Angeles.

The other experts are Dr. Elon Steinberg, a cardiologist, and Nader Kamanger, an expert in pulmonary and sleep issues.

Prosecutors hope the trio’s testimony will support their contentions that Murray acted recklessly by giving Jackson propofol as a sleep aid in the singer’s bedroom.

The outside experts’ testimony comes a day after a medical examiner told jurors 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 conducted the autopsy on Jackson, testified Tuesday it was more likely that Murray overdosed the singer when he incorrectly estimated how much of the drug he was giving Jackson 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 Rogers, chief of forensic medicine in the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.

Rogers analyzed two possible scenarios for Jackson’s death. The first was the defense theory that while Murray stepped away to go to the bathroom, Jackson gave himself an extra dose of the drug he called his “milk.”

“In order for Mr. Jackson to have administered the propofol to himself, you would have to assume he woke up and although he was under the influence of … propofol and other sedatives, he was somehow able to administer propofol to himself,” Rogers testified.

“Then he stops breathing and all of this takes place in a two-minute period of time,” Rogers said. “To me, that scenario seems less reasonable.”

“Less reasonable than what?” Walgren asked.

“The alternate scenario would be in order to keep Mr. Jackson asleep, the doctor would have to give him a little bit every hour, two or three tablespoons an hour,” Rogers said, noting that propofol is a short-acting drug that wears off quickly.

Murray told police he gave Jackson only 25 milligrams of the drug, a very small dose that usually would have kept him asleep for no more than five minutes.

Rogers said he examined evidence found in Jackson’s bedroom and noted there was an empty 100 milliliter bottle of propofol.

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.

Rogers said he considered a number of factors in ruling the death a homicide. Among them were Murray’s statements to police and the lack of sophisticated medical equipment such as an EKG monitor and resuscitation equipment in Jackson’s bedroom.

Rogers also testified it would be inappropriate to use propofol outside a hospital or medical clinic.

Defense attorney Michael Flanagan spent more than two hours 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.

Flanagan 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,” Rogers replied.

“But if they pushed it all at once, that can stop your heart, can’t it?” the lawyer asked.

“Yes,” said 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 Rogers noted that investigators don’t really know what happened when Murray left the room, so they were left to “consider what is reasonable.”

He reiterated his opinion that self-dosing by Jackson was an unreasonable theory.

Walgren illustrated testimony about the autopsy by showing a stark photograph of the singer’s body on an examining table with his genitals covered. He appeared thin but not emaciated. By that point, Jackson’s mother and siblings had left the courtroom.

“I believe he was healthier than the average person his age,” Rogers said.

Murray’s trial is now in its third week.