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Michael Jackson's doctor frantically tried to cover up singer's treatment

In the first day of a hearing to determine if cardiologist Conrad Murray should be tried for involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors say he delayed calling 911, seemed not to know CPR and misled paramedics and doctors.

January 05, 2011|By Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
  • A Mercedes-Benz carrying Dr. Conrad Murray leaves the courthouse after the first day of a hearing to determine whether he should be tried for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson.
A Mercedes-Benz carrying Dr. Conrad Murray leaves the courthouse after… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

As Michael Jackson's life slipped away, his personal physician delayed calling 911, hid evidence of his medical treatment, misled paramedics and doctors, and then abruptly left the hospital before police could question him, prosecutors and the pop star's employees said in court Tuesday.

The picture of Dr. Conrad Murray frantically trying to cover up his treatment of the pop star emerged during the first day of a hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try the 57-year-old cardiologist for involuntary manslaughter.

Two members of Jackson's staff summoned to the witness stand by prosecutors described the physician as panicked, drenched in sweat and, according to one security guard, too flustered to recall even the most basic medical skills.

"I remember him asking if anyone in the room knew CPR," testified Jackson's head of security, Faheem Muhammad. He said he and another guard stared at each other in shock.

The accounts of the witnesses and an opening statement by a prosecutor offered the clearest look yet at the case against Murray, a Las Vegas-based doctor who was to earn $150,000 a month for tending to Jackson during a comeback attempt. The singer stopped breathing June 25, 2009 in a bedroom of his rented Holmby Hills mansion from what the coroner determined was a fatal combination of the surgical anesthetic propofol and several sedatives.

Murray initially did not return police calls, but two days after Jackson's death he met with police and acknowledged that he had given the 50-year-old singer the drugs as a sleep aid on a daily basis for two months, including the day he died, prosecutors said.

Tuesday's testimony focused on the minutes and hours when the cause of Jackson's death remained a mystery.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren said phone records and witness interviews indicated that Murray was on his cellphone when he discovered that his famous client was not breathing.

Walgren said that based on phone records, at least nine and possibly up to 21 minutes elapsed between the time Murray realized something was wrong and he asked someone to call 911.

Before summoning paramedics, Murray left a frantic message on the cellphone of Jackson's personal assistant, Michael Amir Williams. When he returned the call, Williams testified, the physician told him that Jackson "had a bad reaction" and that he should "get someone" to the house immediately.

Walgren said that during this period Murray ordered another security guard, Alberto Alvarez, to help him collect pill bottles and medical paraphernalia in a bag.

Alvarez saw the doctor performing CPR with one hand on a bed, the prosecutor said.

Muhammad, sent to Jackson's bedroom by Williams, testified that he saw Murray kneeling over the singer, who was by this time sprawled out on the floor next to the bed with his eyes and mouth open.

"Did he appear to be alive?" Walgren asked.

"No, sir, he didn't," Muhammad said.

He said Murray then asked whether he or Alvarez knew CPR.

"It was very frantic," Muhammad said of the question.

Adding to the chaos, the witness said, was the presence of two of Jackson's children near the entrance to the bedroom.

The singer's daughter, Paris, was on "the ground on her hands and knees and she was crying," Muhammad recalled.

Walgren told the judge that when paramedics arrived and asked about Jackson's "underlying medical condition," Murray did not mention propofol, instead telling them that the performer was "exhausted from rehearsals."

At Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, emergency room doctors questioned Murray, but again he failed to mention the anesthetic he had administered, the prosecutor alleged.

"Not a word was said about propofol to the UCLA doctors," Walgren said.

Williams' voice faltered as he recalled how Jackson's children, still thinking their father was alive, began listing his allergies for the doctors.

"It was horrible," he said.

Shortly thereafter, the children were told their father was dead, and Murray took Williams aside with a strange request.

"He said, 'Brother Michael, Mr. Jackson has some cream in the house that I know he wouldn't want the world to know about,'" Williams said.

The doctor asked for a ride back to the mansion, but Williams said he and other security guards demurred. Subsequently, Murray said he was going to get something to eat and left the hospital, Williams testified.

Renowned choreographer Kenny Ortega also testified at the hearing. He recounted working as the co-creator and co-director of Jackson's planned comeback concerts.

Six days before Jackson's death, the singer showed up for a rehearsal at Staples Center seeming "lost" and too weak to perform.

"It was scary. I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew there was something going on," Ortega recalled.

The next day, he said, he was summoned to a meeting at Jackson's mansion with the singer, his manager, the concert promoter and Murray. He said the doctor insisted that Jackson was emotionally and physically strong enough to perform and scolded Ortega for sending Jackson home — something he said he hadn't done.

"Dr. Murray told me that this was not my responsibility and asked me to not act like a doctor or psychologist … and leave Michael's health to him," he said.

Murray, who could face up to four years in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Ed Chernoff, declined to make an opening statement.

Defense attorneys often make the strategic decision not to present a case during preliminary hearings.

Prosecutors plan to call as many as 30 witnesses for the hearing, which is expected to last seven to eight days.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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