National News

November 8, 2011

Guilty verdict for Jackson doctor ends latest saga

LOS ANGELES — The single word, “Guilty,” brought a muffled shriek in the gallery of the packed courtroom and tears from Michael Jackson’s family, but no reaction from the doctor convicted of supplying the King of Pop with the drug he craved for sleep.

With the snap of handcuffs, another chapter in the bizarre saga surrounding Jackson’s life came to a close, and the man who once envisioned a glamorous career as the music icon’s personal physician was led from the courtroom. Dr. Conrad Murray was going to jail for involuntary manslaughter.

Murray’s face was grim but betrayed no emotion. In a few minutes, his life had been shattered and it was likely he would never practice medicine again.

It was a precipitous fall for a man who told his patients he had been given “a once in a lifetime opportunity” for which he was giving up his practice. At 58, he planned to devote himself to one patient, Jackson, who would escort him into a world of glamor and celebrity. They were going to London for Jackson’s spectacular comeback concerts.

All of that ended on June 25, 2009, in a Holmby Hills mansion where he gave his difficult patient what he wanted — an operating room anesthetic that Jackson called his “milk,” the only thing the singer trusted to put him to sleep.

Now Murray faces up to four years in prison, although overcrowding makes it unlikely he’ll serve that long.

Jurors heard hours of testimony about propofol, the drug that killed Jackson, and they listened while defense attorneys blamed the singer for his own death, suggesting it was he, not Murray, who injected the fatal dose.

Did they believe that? Jurors weren’t saying. In fact, they said nothing after their verdict. But they didn’t have to find that Murray administered the dose that killed Jackson, only that the doctor was primarily responsible for the singer’s death.

Their deliberations were short, less than nine hours over two days, presided over by the foreman, a 45-year-old management consultant who had previously been a classical musician and had served on a jury before.

Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor praised the panel’s dedication and was harsh in his comments about Murray after the jury left the room.

“This is a crime where the end result (was) the death of a human being,” the judge said. “Dr. Murray’s reckless conduct in this case poses a demonstrable risk to the safety of the public” if he remains free on bond, the judge said.

He then ordered Murray taken into immediate custody and held without bail pending sentencing Nov. 29.

Prosecutors will address whether Murray should pay restitution at a later hearing and the physician is being pursued by Jackson’s father in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Defense attorney Ed Chernoff said the verdict was a disappointment and would be appealed. Asked how Murray took the verdict, Chernoff said, “he’s a pretty strong guy.”

Regarding Murray’s future, he said, “the keys to his handcuffs belong to the judge. We certainly would like to do anything we can to keep him from going to prison.”

In post-verdict comments to the media, District Attorney Steve Cooley praised the verdict but suggested a recent change in state law might make it difficult to keep Murray behind bars because non-violent felony offenders are being sentenced to overcrowded county jails and being released early.

Despite six weeks of testimony and hundreds of pieces of evidence, precisely what happened in Jackson’s bedroom in the hours before his death remains unknown. Murray offered an account to police two days after Jackson’s death, but prosecutors said the doctor’s version wasn’t consistent with the amounts of propofol found in Jackson’s system or other evidence.

Murray’s departure from the courtroom in handcuffs was an abrupt end to the freedom he had kept since being charged with Jackson’s death nearly 21 months ago. After Murray changed into prison garb at the courthouse his elegantly tailored suit was returned to his mother, who had sat through every day of the trial.

The other mother in the courtroom, Katherine Jackson, walked away slowly on the arm of her son, Randy.

“I feel better now,” she said quietly and told an Associated Press reporter that she had been confident of the outcome. Her daughter, La Toya, said she was overcome with joy and felt her brother’s presence in the courtroom.  

“Michael was looking over us,” she said.

Jackson’s sister, Rebbie Jackson, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday, and said she thought she would feel relief at the verdict, but instead felt numb and “started crying profusely.”

“I guess because the reality of what had transpired really hit me at that point ... It was just tremendous.”

NBC on Tuesday also aired a clip from an interview with Murray that was conducted a few weeks ago. In it, reporter Savannah Guthrie asks Murray if he remembers Jackson’s final words.

“It was probably, I don’t know, but probably when he was pleading and begging me to please, please let him have some milk because that was the only thing that would work,” Murray says. NBC said the interview will air on Friday.

Monday’s verdict was greeted with cheers outside the downtown courthouse where Murray was convicted. His fans sang the Jackson hit “Beat It” and cheered his parents and siblings as they left the courthouse.

The singer left behind three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, who did not attend the trial but were a key component of the case. The eldest children witnessed Murray’s frantic efforts to revive their father. Deputy District Attorney David Walgren repeatedly told jurors in closing arguments that Murray’s actions were the reason the children would grow up without their father, who had planned a series of comeback concerts in large part so they could see him perform.

After the verdict, Walgren extended his sympathies to the Jackson family, who “lost not a pop icon, but a son, a brother and a father.”

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Associated Press Writer Greg Risling and Videographer John Mone contributed to this report.

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McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP

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