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Defence ditches Jackson drug claim

Lawyers representing Michael Jackson's doctor have abandoned the defence theory that the pop megastar swallowed the drug that killed him.

The abrupt shift in strategy that potentially undermines the defence case came after Conrad Murray's lawyers learned that their claim - that the 50-year-old singer swallowed the anaesthetic propofol while Murray was out of the room - could not be supported with scientific evidence.

The developments, along with a medical expert's repudiation of Murray's medical skills, suggested that the defence must recoup significant lost ground in its bid to acquit him of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death in June 2009. Murray, on trial in Los Angeles, denies the charge.

It was not clear whether the defence would still argue that Jackson gave himself a dose of the drug in some other way, such as injecting it into an IV tube that was sending the drug into him.

"This is potentially devastating for the defence," said Manny Medrano, a former federal prosecutor who now practises criminal defence. Since the defence proposed in opening statements that Jackson may have self-administered propofol, he said, "that will become the elephant in the room for jurors".

Mr Medrano said the 11th-hour switch showed "a lack of preparation and failure to really think the defence theory through".

Judge Michael Pastor and prosecutor David Walgren appeared stunned when defence lawyer Michael Flanagan arose in a hearing outside the jury's presence and announced the decision. "We are not going to assert at any point in this trial that Michael Jackson at any time orally ingested propofol," said Mr Flanagan, who revealed he had commissioned his own study about oral ingestion of the drug.

He said the study concluded that it would not be absorbed into the body when ingested.

Defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau, who won Jackson's acquittal of child molestation charges and has been following this case closely, said it was a "very, very strong day" for the prosecution. "But remember the trial isn't over till it's over," he said. "The defence hasn't called a single witness yet."

Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

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