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Michael Jackson's doctor becomes focus of manslaughter probe

Search warrants issued in Houston identify Dr. Conrad Murray as a target of the investigation into the pop star's death.

July 24, 2009|Kimi Yoshino and Harriet Ryan

Michael Jackson's personal physician was identified as a suspect in the Los Angeles Police Department's manslaughter investigation into the pop star's death, according to court records filed Thursday in Houston.

A pair of search warrants filed in Harris County District Court stated that investigators were looking for "items constituting evidence of the offense of manslaughter that tend to show that Dr. Conrad Murray committed the said criminal offense."

The searches, which were carried out Wednesday at Murray's medical clinic and storage unit in Houston, gave authorities access to billing records, medication orders, shipping receipts, billing receipts, medical records and "implements and instruments used in the commission of a crime."

The court records were the first public confirmation by police that Murray was a focus of their probe. Detectives previously had interviewed Murray, but had declined to identify him as a suspect.

"I do not know what they are looking for, and I can't possibly tell you how anything they took in any way connects with the death of Michael Jackson," said Murray's attorney, Edward Chernoff, who was present at both of the searches.

Chernoff has said that his client did not give Jackson any narcotics or other medication that "should have" caused his death.

Acting on behalf of the LAPD, a member of the Houston Police Department's narcotics division obtained the search warrant for Murray's Houston office on Monday from a Harris County District Court judge.

They searched the office for 3 1/2 hours Wednesday, confiscating a computer, a Rolodex card with FedEx information and e-mails from one of Murray's former employees.

The inventory of items taken in the search included vials of two drugs: 27 tablets of phentermine, a prescription appetite suppressant; and one tablet of clonazepam, a muscle relaxant. During that search, authorities also seized public storage receipts, a rental agreement and a move-in receipt.

Sue Lyon, general manager of West 18th Street Self Storage, where Murray has rented a 10-by-15-foot storage unit since April, said authorities found information about her company at Murray's office, then sought the second search warrant.

"They found my business card," Lyon said. "That's how they put it together. They came straight over here."

Among the items seized from the storage unit were two computer hard drives, a medical board certificate, letters to a former employee, a list of contacts and papers pertaining to his practice. On the search warrant return and inventory, authorities listed a suspension notice from a Houston hospital. They also took letters from the Internal Revenue Service, a Texas Department of Public Safety controlled substance registration and public records from the Texas controller.

An administrative assistant at Doctors Hospital in Houston confirmed that Murray has been suspended from practicing at the hospital. The offense was "very much" routine and minor, she said.

Murray, a cardiologist with practices in Las Vegas and Houston, had been hired to care for Jackson at a monthly salary of $150,000. Murray was at Jackson's home and found the singer not breathing June 25. He administered CPR before paramedics were called. The singer was officially pronounced dead at UCLA Medical Center.

Sources familiar with the investigation have said that authorities removed propofol, a powerful anesthetic, and other medications from Jackson's home. Murray's attorney has declined to comment on whether the doctor administered the drug, which is most commonly used by anesthesiologists in hospitals.

L.A. County coroner's investigators have collected evidence from two other medical professionals who worked with Jackson before his death.

Earlier this week, Ed Winter, assistant chief coroner, obtained information from Dr. Randy Rosen, an anesthesiologist. Winter told The Times that Jackson had been treated at Rosen's Beverly Hills office but declined to say under what circumstances. Jackson's second child was delivered at the facility, according to birth records. Rosen's office did not return calls seeking comment .

On Wednesday, Winter visited the Inglewood office of Cherilyn Lee, a registered nurse who operates a Los Angeles-based nutritional counseling business. Lee said Jackson had complained to her earlier this year of insomnia and pleaded for her to get him propofol. Lee told The Times she never prescribed or gave Jackson drugs, but did design a nutritional program for him, which she provided to Winter. She said she warned Jackson against using propofol.

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

Times staff writers Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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