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Michael Jackson's doctor to stand trial in manslaughter

L.A. County judge revokes Conrad Murray's medical license and orders him to stand trial. One medical expert testifies that it's possible the pop star administered the fatal dose of propofol himself.

January 12, 2011|By Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
  • Dr. Conrad Murray listens to the prosecution's case during his arraignment in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Dr. Conrad Murray listens to the prosecution's case during his arraignment… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

A judge stripped Dr. Conrad Murray of his state medical license Tuesday after ruling that prosecutors have sufficient evidence to try him for manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said testimony presented during a six-day hearing into Murray's treatment of the pop icon had convinced him that allowing the cardiologist to keep his license "would constitute an imminent danger to public safety."

Evidence presented by prosecutors, the judge said, showed "a direct nexus and connection between the acts and omissions of Dr. Murray and the homicide in this case," Pastor said.

The judge's decision to send the case to trial was widely expected, including by Murray's attorneys, but the defense had strongly contested the suspension of his license, with one of his lawyers calling it a "nuclear option" that could destroy the 57-year-old doctor's ability to support his family and mount a criminal defense.

Murray is licensed in California, Texas and Nevada, but does not practice in California, his attorney said. As part of his ruling, Pastor gave the doctor 24 hours to inform medical authorities in the two other states that the court had suspended his California license until the conclusion of the criminal case. The notifications could have repercussions on his practice in the other states, his attorney said.

The judge denied a request by prosecutors to raise Murray's bail from $75,000 to $300,000. Murray is to return to court for arraignment Jan. 25 and is expected to again plead not guilty.

Jackson died June 25, 2009, from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol. Murray acknowledged to police that he had used the drug for two months to treat the 50-year-old singer's chronic insomnia, but insisted that on the day of Jackson's death he had only administered a small amount that should not have been fatal.

How lethal levels of propofol got into Jackson's system was the focus of the final day of testimony in the case. Through the testimony of 20 previous witnesses, including police officers, paramedics and the performer's household staff, the defense had hinted that Jackson might have given himself the fatal dose.

But with the last two witnesses — both medical experts — the defense delved directly into the issue, with a lawyer suggesting that Jackson either injected himself with propofol or drank it when Murray wasn't looking.

The medical examiner who ruled the death a homicide said that he would stand by the classification even if it turned out that the pop star gave himself the fatal dose. Dr. Christopher Rogers, chief of forensic medicine for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said Murray's "substandard" treatment in using propofol to treat insomnia in a home setting without proper monitoring remained key to his opinion.

The final witness, Dr. Richard Ruffalo, an anesthesiologist and pharmacologist, said his review of Murray's treatment suggested numerous deviations from the standard of medical care, from "simple" deviations such as a lack of understanding of the interactions between drugs to "extreme" deviations such as performing "totally useless" CPR with one hand.

He initially said that small amounts of propofol found in Jackson's stomach were not consistent with ingesting the drug, but under cross-examination, he acknowledged making a math error in his analysis and said ingestion "would seem to make sense."

But Ruffalo maintained that such a scenario only increased Murray's culpability given the doctor's claim that his famous patient was addicted to the drug he called "milk."

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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