Doctor waits as Jackson jury weighs up damning evidence

By Guy Adams

It was a long and no doubt lonely weekend for Dr Conrad Murray, the physician catapulted to global notoriety 2 years ago when his client Michael Jackson suffered a fatal cardiac arrest on the eve of a comeback tour.

On Saturday, a jury at Los Angeles Superior Court retired to consider its verdict after a six-week trial in which Murray was accused of acting as an "enabler" who accepted an inflated salary to recklessly fuel his patient's addiction to dangerous prescription drugs.

The seven men and five women who will decide Murray's fate were scheduled to meet today to continue formal deliberations.

In the court of public opinion, not to mention among the legal pundits who have been helping broadcasters make sense of the trial, Murray has already been found guilty as charged. The circumstantial evidence against him seems persuasive, compelling, even. His defence team has been amateurish; the prosecution steady.

But there is no such thing as an open-and-shut case, particularly in trials which revolve around celebrity, and the jury's failure to issue an immediate verdict therefore suggests one of two things: either they are making sure to dot i's and cross t's, before delivering a unanimous (probably guilty) verdict; or, for now, they are divided.

Here, in any event, are the key factors they have to weigh:

The charge

Murray stands accused of "involuntary manslaughter", one of the milder forms of homicide, which in California carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. It refers to the unintentional killing of a victim who dies because of the gross, reckless or criminal negligence of the defendant. And it is up to a jury to decide what constitutes that level of negligence.

The prosecution case

Prosecutor David Walgren has claimed that Murray killed Jackson through "greed", accepting a US$150,000-a-month ($188,500) salary on the basis that he would then administer to Jackson dangerous prescription drugs. Against medical advice, Murray secured him a domestic supply of propofol - the anaesthetic that eventually killed him - to combat insomnia. Having set up a slow drip to administer the drug, he then failed to properly observe his patient.

Phone records show that Murray was speaking to a girlfriend when Jackson stopped breathing. After realising he was in trouble, the physician took 20 minutes to call emergency services, and was seen by eyewitnesses botching even basic efforts to revive him. While Jackson was being rushed to hospital, Murray also failed to inform paramedics about the drugs in the singer's system.

The defence case

It has been a gruelling six weeks for defence lawyer Ed Chernoff, who had originally intended to call witnesses who would testify that Jackson was a hopeless drug addict, forced, because of impending bankruptcy, into embarking on a tour he was in no physical condition to complete.

However the judge, Michael Pastor, ruled them inadmissible, saying the trial should focus only on the events leading up to June 25, the morning that the singer died.

The defence case heard in court therefore largely hinges on evidence presented by Dr Paul White, an expert witness. White believes that blood and urine tests carried out during Jackson's autopsy suggest he was killed not by a steady feed of propofol (which a drip would provide), but by a single, large dose. That has helped Chernoff to argue that Jackson administered a fatal injection of the drug himself.

The key questions

No one disputes that Jackson was killed by an overdose of propofol, and Murray's own team concedes that the defendant had on occasion given him the drug at his rented home. On those grounds alone, the prosecution argues that a jury must convict: propofol should not be used outside a hospital setting, and is designed to be administered under close observation, which Murray failed to provide, according to phone records.

The jury may also decide that eyewitness accounts of Murray's actions immediately after Jackson fell ill constituted a level of professional negligence sufficient to produce a guilty verdict.

If they are unswayed by those arguments, their outcome of the trial will instead come down to a simple question: which of two expert witnesses who were called to give evidence about propofol they choose to believe.

Dr Steven Shafer was called by the prosecution. He said propofol was too strong to be used to treat insomnia, and believed levels in Jackson's blood and urine suggested that he was killed by an amount consistent with an intravenous drip.

The other, White, believes the singer administered a large dose himself, via a syringe. That seems at odds with the absence of Jackson's fingerprints from any of the medical equipment at his bedside, but Murray's team hope that his testimony will cast sufficient doubt to secure an acquittal.

- INDEPENDENT

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