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‘Enabler’ or scapegoat? Michael Jackson doctor in dock as trial begins

By Guy Adams in LA

The charge, when it was read out, contained one word every defendant dreads: homicide.

The plea: not guilty. Conrad Murray, the private doctor who was caring for Michael Jackson at the time of his death, entered the dock at Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday, where he was accused of involuntary manslaughter in relation to his client's fatal cardiac arrest.

The opening of the trial came more than two years after the 50-year-old singer lapsed into unconsciousness in the bedroom of a rented mansion, several miles from the courthouse, where he had been staying during rehearsals for a series of comeback concerts. Both the prosecution and Dr Murray's defence team laid out the broad details of their case to the jury yesterday, offering wildly differing interpretations of the string of events that led to Jackson's sudden death, on the morning of June 25, 2009.

They agree that the singer had taken a cocktail of sedatives, painkillers, and other prescription drugs to help him combat insomnia. And they also appear to accept the conclusion of coroners: that he was killed by an overdose of Propofol, a powerful anaesthetic known as “milk of amnesia”.

Where the two sides differ, and the all-important question on which the case will eventually turn, is on how and why the drugs found their way into Jackson's system.

Prosecutors will paint Dr Murray as an “enabler” who accepted an inflated salary of $150,000 (£96,000) a month to feed his client's addiction to prescription drugs. They will claim that he injected Jackson with Propofol to help him sleep, and then failed to either monitor him or subsequently administer competent first aid.

The prosecution further alleges that Dr Murray, who was divorced and suffered from financial problems, spent many of the crucial minutes while his client's condition was deteriorating on the telephone to girlfriends. When he realised the seriousness of Jackson's condition, his initial reaction was to attempt to hide evidence of the drugs he'd been given.

The defence, for its part, claims Dr Murray is being made a scapegoat for the personal failings of Jackson. They will argue that the singer was addicted to painkillers, did not share details of many of the drugs he was already consuming, and gave himself the fatal dose of Propofol, probably by swallowing it.

Dr Murray faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison along with the loss of his medical licence, if found guilty by the jury,

In a curious move, Judge, Michael Pastor has allowed cameras into his court.


The witnesses:

  • Kenny Ortega: As the first prosecution witness, famed choreographer Kenny Ortega will tell how Dr Murray assured him Jackson was fit and healthy — despite the fact he was giving the singer nightly doses of several drugs, including Propofol.
  • Alberto Alvarez: Mr Alvarez was the first security guard to reach Jackson's room after he lapsed into unconsciousness. He says Dr Murray instructed him to remove IV bags from the scene before the emergency services arrived.

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