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Michael Jackson's physician was on phone while pop star needed monitoring, prosecutors say

Records presented at an L.A. hearing show Dr. Conrad Murray made or received 11 calls over five hours at Michael Jackson's rented mansion the day the performer died.

January 07, 2011|By Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
  • La Toya Jackson arrives for the third day of the preliminary hearing for Dr. Conrad Murray in downtown Los Angeles.
La Toya Jackson arrives for the third day of the preliminary hearing for… (Toby Canham, Getty Images )

Dr. Conrad Murray was talking on the phone and texting during the period authorities say he should have been closely monitoring Michael Jackson's vital signs, according to cellphone records shown in court Thursday.

The records presented by prosecutors indicate that Murray made or received 11 phone calls over five hours while at the singer's rented Holmby Hills mansion, including a trio of back-to-back conversations that lasted 45 minutes and were interrupted, prosecutors have said, only by Murray's sudden realization that his famous patient had stopped breathing.

The phone evidence came on the third day of a preliminary hearing to determine whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence to try Murray for involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's June 25, 2009, death.

Prosecutors have accused him of making an "extreme deviation" from the standards of medical care by, among other things, administering the surgical anesthetic propofol without proper monitoring. The specifics of Murray's treatment remain something of a mystery because Jackson barred everyone except his children and the doctor from the second floor of his residence. But with the records, prosecutors suggested that Murray was distracted from his medical duties by the calls and other text messages.

Murray told police in an interview that he spent hours that morning trying to get Jackson, a chronic insomniac, to sleep and administered a series of sedatives and propofol. The records show he also talked to three other patients, another physician, the staff at his practices in Las Vegas and Houston, his teenage daughter and his personal assistant. A police detective, Dan Myers, testified that the assistant, Stacey Howe, told him she and Murray talked about contacting the medical board in London, where he was to travel in a few weeks for Jackson's comeback concerts.

Murray ended a call with a female acquaintance at 12:02 p.m. Prosecutors have said he did so abruptly, suggesting that he had just found Jackson stricken. The phone records show Murray placed a call to Jackson's personal assistant at 12:12 p.m. They also show text messages at 12:03 p.m. and 12:04 p.m.

An AT&T representative testified that it is possible to recover the contents of text messages but that he did not know how to do so. There has been no testimony on whether the prosecution has recovered those messages.

Judge Michael Pastor, who will decide whether the case proceeds to trial, also heard from two physicians at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center who treated Jackson in the emergency room.

Dr. Richelle Cooper, who supervised his treatment, testified that Murray said he had "witnessed the patient arrest," which she took to mean that he had been in the room when Jackson stopped breathing. She said that when she asked him what had happened, he mentioned the singer's grueling rehearsal schedule.

"Dr. Murray reported the patient had been in his usual state of health, not ill, but had been working very hard, and he thought he may be dehydrated," she said.

Dr. Thao Nguyen said Murray appeared "devastated" and "asked me not to give up easily and try my best to save the patient." Both doctors said that when they asked about what medication he had administered to the singer, Murray mentioned the sedative lorazepam but not propofol.

Murray's case is expected to become a battle among expert medical witnesses over the role of propofol, and both sides tried to use the testimony of emergency room doctors to launch opening salvos.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren quizzed Cooper about the appropriate uses of propofol.

"I've never seen or heard of it used in a home setting, if that is what you are asking," she said. She said that the drug can endanger the respiratory system and that hospital procedures require "a person whose only job is the monitoring of the sedation."

On cross-examination, defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan asked her to consider a hypothetical situation that mirrored Murray's assertion to police that he gave Jackson only a small amount of propofol — 25 milligrams — more than an hour before he stopped breathing.

"If the patient was awake and completely normal and not sedated after the medication [wore off] and then had a subsequent problem … I would not think it was related," she said.

But when Walgren asked whether her conclusion was based on the doctor's being truthful about the amount of propofol he had given, she said it was.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

Times staff writer Victoria Kim contributed to this report.

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