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Doctor covered up Jackson's condition, witnesses testify

The singer's assistant says in court that Conrad Murray called to say the singer had had a 'bad reaction' when he stopped breathing. An executive with AEG Live says the doctor was more concerned about his contract than his patient.

September 29, 2011|By Victoria Kim and Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
  • Michael Jackson's sister Janet Jackson arrives at the courthouse on the second day of Dr. Conrad Murray's trial.
Michael Jackson's sister Janet Jackson arrives at the courthouse… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Prosecution witnesses testified Wednesday that Michael Jackson's personal physician covered up the pop star's health both before and after his death, misleading concert promoters and his entourage.

Dr. Conrad Murray assured promoters that Jackson was in perfect health when in fact he was dependent on nightly doses of a dangerous surgical anesthetic to sleep, witnesses said. Jackson's personal assistant told jurors that when the singer stopped breathing on June 25, 2009, Murray called him to say that Jackson had had a "bad reaction." The assistant also said Murray did not ask him to call 911.

The series of witnesses on the second day of testimony offered glimpses into the doctor's behavior in the two months he injected Jackson with propofol night after night, and in the moments after he found the pop star unresponsive.

Prosecutors allege that Murray was more concerned about his hefty paycheck than about his patient's best interests.

While he was painting a rosy picture of Jackson's health, the doctor was focused on the lucrative terms under which he was to care for Jackson during his London tour, a witness said. AEG Live attorney Kathy Jorrie recounted how in the last days of Jackson's life, Murray repeatedly asked for revisions to his $150,000-a-month contract, including a provision that he not be required to return any portion of his monthly salary if Jackson were to change his mind or if the tour were to be canceled.

Murray repeatedly volunteered that Jackson was in "excellent condition" and described in glowing terms how well the singer was doing in rehearsals, she testified.

In reality, prosecutors allege, Murray had been well aware of Jackson's drug-addled state as early as six weeks before his death. On Monday they played a recording from the doctor's phone of the singer sounding drugged and slurring his words.

Paul Gongaware, co-chief executive of AEG Live, said he was completely unaware that the doctor was giving Jackson propofol, the surgical anesthetic that ultimately killed him. On the surface, their relationship appeared caring and friendly, he said.

"I had no idea," Gongaware said.

The misleading and deception continued in the moments when Murray apparently realized his famed patient had stopped breathing, the singer's personal assistant testified. The panicked first call Murray placed downplayed what was happening to Jackson, the assistant, Michael Amir Williams, said in his testimony.

"When I heard 'bad reaction,' I didn't think anything fatal, personally, and I wasn't asked to call 911," Williams said. He later said: "If Dr. Murray, as Mr. Jackson's doctor, called me and told me to call 911, I would've done just that."

In cross-examination, Murray's attorney suggested that it would not have been unusual per protocol for the doctor to first call the assistant rather than authorities.

"Would it be strange for Dr. Murray to call you in the event of an emergency at the house?" attorney Ed Chernoff asked.

"Yeah, if Mr. Jackson were dying it would, for me personally," Williams replied.

Jackson's head of security, Faheem Muhammad, recounted seeing a sweaty, nervous Murray standing over Jackson, who was sprawled on the floor of the singer's second-floor bedroom. The doctor asked him and another security guard if either of them knew CPR, Muhammad testified.

He recalled his attempt to protect Jackson, on a stretcher, and his three children from being photographed as they left the house for the hospital.

After Jackson arrived at UCLA Medical Center and was pronounced dead, Murray was preoccupied with getting back to the house to retrieve "some cream" he said "Michael wouldn't want the world to know about," Williams testified.

Williams said he found the doctor's request to be taken back to the house so odd that he lied to the doctor, telling him the police had taken his keys. Murray's attorney noted that Williams did not bring up the doctor's remarks about the cream until a police interview two months after Jackson died.

Prosecutors produced a surveillance video of Murray walking out of a hospital lobby, which Muhammad said showed what he had seen first-hand — the doctor departing from the hospital after the singer's security staff refused to drive him away.

But on cross-examination, the defense produced a second surveillance video showing Murray half an hour later in another area of the hospital.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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