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Murray's lawyer accuses investigator of being sloppy

A print found on syringe taken from Michael Jackson's bedroom is found to belong to a coroner's investigator. But the singer's prints weren't found on any drugs or equipment, undercutting the defense.

October 07, 2011|By Victoria Kim, Harriet Ryan and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles County coroner's investigator Elissa Fleak is shown documents by defense attorney Ed Chernoff during Dr. Conrad Murray's trial in the death of pop star Michael Jackson.
Los Angeles County coroner's investigator Elissa Fleak is shown… (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters )

Michael Jackson's fingerprints were not on any of the syringes, vials or other medical paraphernalia that littered the scene of his death, attorneys said in court Thursday, undercutting the defense theory that the singer had given himself the drug that killed him.

Attorneys for Dr. Conrad Murray have told jurors that while the physician wasn't looking, Jackson swallowed a sedative and gave himself the anesthetic propofol, a combination that killed the singer instantly. In a hearing in December, a defense attorney zeroed in on a syringe with a then-unidentified fingerprint found at Jackson's bedside.

The attorney, J. Michael Flanagan, suggested at the time that it could have been used by the singer to inject himself with the drug.

In fact, that fingerprint belonged to a coroner's investigator, Elissa Fleak, who testified Thursday that she couldn't say how it got there.

"I typically wear gloves. I always wear gloves at crime scenes," she said.

In the barrel of the syringe, a toxicologist testified Thursday, was a small amount of propofol mixed with lidocaine, a drug used to numb the burning sensation created by the anesthetic. The only other print identified was a partial print belonging to Murray on a bottle of propofol that Fleak said was found inside an IV bag.

Fingerprints found on a second bottle of propofol and two IV bags couldn't be matched to Murray, Jackson, his security guard, personal chef, investigators or a paramedic, according to a summary of test results read by prosecutors. No fingerprints could be lifted from other items of evidence, including nine additional bottles of propofol, a syringe, IV tubing and drug vials.

Although it proved to be less than a smoking gun for the defense, the syringe with Fleak's fingerprint instead became the cornerstone of a defense attorney's attack on the investigator's handling of the scene and evidence. In cross-examination, Ed Chernoff, an attorney for Murray, accused Fleak of being sloppy in her investigation and collection of evidence.

"Ms. Fleak, would you agree with me that you made a substantial number of mistakes in this investigation?" Chernoff asked.

"No," she responded.

Chernoff grilled the investigator about the propofol bottle with Murray's print that she said was found inside an IV bag — evidence that would corroborate the testimony of a key prosecution witness, a security guard, who said he removed a similar item from an IV stand at Jackson's bedside per the doctor's orders.

Alberto Alvarez, the guard, said the doctor enlisted him in gathering the bag and other medical evidence before calling 911 — conduct prosecutors say shows the doctor's attempt to cover up his actions.

Chernoff noted that the investigator took no photos of the bottle inside the bag, or documented the state of the two items in her notes until this year, suggesting that Fleak "revised" her notes to square with Alvarez's testimony.

While conceding she did not document the evidence as it appeared when she found it, Fleak denied she ever talked to prosecutors about any of their other witnesses. Later, under questioning by a prosecutor, the investigator said that although she had not done a perfect job, no investigation was perfect.

"Have you done your best to be as truthful and accurate as far as the role you played in this case, the observations you made and the items you recovered?" Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren asked.

"Yes," she said.

Fleak also testified Thursday about the medical records she subpoenaed from the doctor about his care for Jackson. The last of the records turned over by the doctor dated from 2008 and made no mention of propofol.

The physician had no records for the nightly care he provided Jackson in the three months leading up to the star's death. Murray told police he injected Jackson with propofol nearly every night.

Under questioning by Murray's attorney, Fleak said she also subpoenaed records from eight other doctors and a nurse about Jackson's care.

The toxicologist, Dan Anderson, also testified Thursday that propofol and lorazepam, a sedative that was ruled to have contributed to Jackson's death, were found throughout the singer's body.

Anderson said the anesthetic was also found in Jackson's stomach, but that the amount was minute, equivalent to a few grains of sugar. Murray's attorneys have suggested Jackson may have drunk the propofol.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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