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Jurors hear two views of Dr. Conrad Murray

The prosecution and the defense make closing arguments in the trial of Michael Jackson's physician. Deliberations begin Friday.

November 04, 2011|By Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
  • Dr. Conrad Murray stands with defense attorneys J. Michael Flanagan, left, and Ed Chernoff before the start of Thursdays court proceedings in downtown Los Angeles. The case now goes to the jury.
Dr. Conrad Murray stands with defense attorneys J. Michael Flanagan, left,… (Kevork Djansezian / Pool…)

It was the promise of a big celebrity trial with its alluring mix of Hollywood and death that ringed a downtown courthouse with camera crews.

Citizens rose before dark for seats in the packed courtroom, where they heard intimate details of Michael Jackson's death, even viewing a photo of his body, laid out on a gurney in a hospital hallway.

When the prosecutor and a defense attorney rose for their closing arguments Thursday, they dealt with that celebrity in starkly different ways.

Ed Chernoff, who is defending Jackson's personal physician Conrad Murray against a charge of involuntary manslaughter, argued that the celebrity's high profile was the main reason the case was brought to trial in the first place.

"Somebody's got to say it: If it were anybody else but Michael Jackson, if it were anybody else, would this doctor be here today?" he told jurors.

But when a prosecutor rose Thursday to make a final pitch for conviction, he brushed aside the pop star's outsized fame and musical genius and focused instead on a role he played outside the limelight: father.

Returning to the subject of Jackson's three children again and again, he suggested the physician's true crime was not killing an icon, but robbing two young boys and a girl of their father.

"For them, this case doesn't end today or tomorrow or the next day," Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren told jurors. "For Michael's children this case will go on forever because they do not have a father."

With the conclusion of the final arguments, the jury is expected to begin deliberations Friday.

Throughout the six-week trial, the defense worked to portray Murray as sympathetic, even summoning former patients to vouch for his warmth and generosity.

Prosecutors seemed to have a more difficult challenge with the victim, a larger than life figure whose final years were defined by allegations of child molestation and drug abuse.

The emphasis on Jackson's children, who did not attend the trial or figure largely in the case, in closing arguments seemed a clear attempt to humanize him in the eyes of jurors, nine of whom are parents.

In his initial two-hour address the prosecutor referred to Jackson's career only briefly, but referred to Prince, 14; Paris, 13; and Blanket, 9, nearly two dozen times. Twice Walgren told jurors that the children were "paramount" to the singer and noted repeatedly that his two eldest had witnessed Murray's failed efforts to revive their father.

Recounting testimony that Paris was sobbing and Prince in a state of shock, the prosecutor told jurors, "That is what the actions of Conrad Murray did, not just to Michael Jackson but to his kids."

The prosecutor asked jurors to find that Murray acted with gross negligence when he gave Jackson the surgical anesthetic propofol for insomnia in a bedroom of the singer's mansion.

The defense tried to paint Jackson as a desperate, sleep-deprived drug addict who so feared failing at a comeback that he injected himself with a lethal amount of the surgical anesthetic in an attempt to rest before rehearsals.

But Walgren ridiculed that portrait. Jackson, he said, was optimistic in large part because comeback concerts in London would allow his children to see him perform for the first time.

"He was making plans, long-term plans, for both himself and his three children to whom he was so dedicated," the prosecutor said.

He said Murray "corrupted" the "hallowed relationship" between doctor and patient so it came to resemble an "employer-employee relationship." The doctor wanted to keep his $150,000-a-month job so he agreed to provide Jackson with a drug in unsafe circumstances that amounted to an "obscene experiment," Walgren said.

"He is an employee who is saying yes to what is asked instead of saying yes to what is best for Michael Jackson's health as any competent, ethical doctor would do," Walgren said.

In his argument, defense attorney Chernoff criticized the prosecution for repeatedly showing jurors a photo of the children — a close-cropped image of the three at a public memorial. Showing the photo was designed to tug at their emotions and to paint Jackson as a victim, the lawyer said.

"It's heartbreaking to see those kids, you know that and I know that. That's why they showed those kids," he said.

Murray, Chernoff said, was pulled into the situation only because he wanted to help Jackson with his sleep problems. Yet he was "a little fish in a big dirty pond" who was clueless about Jackson's other doctors and had no control over the incredible stress the singer was under.

Chernoff told jurors Jackson's death was a direct result of the singer swallowing tablets of a sedative and injecting himself with propofol.

And Murray should not be held responsible for the pop star's actions, he said.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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