Conrad Murray reacts after the jury returned with a guilty verdict in his… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
They gathered in the darkness outside Men's Central Jail late Sunday, bonding over Michael Jackson tunes playing on an iPhone. Jackson's image on their shirts peeked out from under jackets as a chilly mist threatened to turn into rain.
Their goal, one of them said, was singular: Welcome Conrad Murray to "his living hell."
"We were some of the last faces he saw going in," said Julia Thomas, 44, of Los Angeles. "And we're going to be the first faces coming out."
But Thomas never saw Murray, the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death. He was released from the jail at 12:01 a.m. Monday, authorities confirmed, eluding a scrum of die-hard Jackson fans and TV cameras.
The covert release angered the handful of waiting Jackson supporters, who said Murray received undue "special treatment."
Laura Sherwood, 27, said she moved from Phoenix to follow Murray's trial. She said she had hoped that Murray would show remorse.
"I just want to know why he won't admit and take responsibility for what he did," she said.
Karlene Taylor, who wore a T-shirt that read "Thriller Killer" in red letters, wanted to caution Murray about the scope of Jackson's fans.
"If you go to any corner of the world," she said, "they know Michael Jackson and Jesus."
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore, who briefly addressed reporters early Monday, offered few details about Murray's departure, except to say that he was released to "representatives," and that such releases are allowed on a "case-by-case" basis to ensure certain inmates' safety and security.
He would not confirm whether Murray was driven away in a Sheriff's Department vehicle.
Asked about the 60-year-old's conduct in jail, Whitmore replied, "He was exemplary."
In November 2011, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge gave Murray the maximum four-year term for his role in the pop star's death, lambasting Murray for not only showing no remorse, but for "blaming the victim." Jackson died June 25, 2009, from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol, which the doctor administered, authorities said.
Under state sentencing laws, most inmates receive a day of credit for every day spent behind bars — meaning that although Murray was incarcerated for just less than two years, he technically served his full term.
Murray, nonetheless, has endured a long ordeal since Jackson's death, his attorney Valerie Wass said.
"They didn't release him one minute early," she said, speaking outside the jail early Monday. "I'm just happy he's finally out."
Wass implored members of the media to respect Murray's privacy as he readjusts to life. His first priority was seeing his family, she said.
She added that she believes Murray will one day practice medicine again.
He has challenged his conviction, and that effort will continue in the state Court of Appeal, Wass said. He is seeking to have the verdict overturned because of insufficient evidence. Wass also appealed to undo the conviction on other grounds.
A Los Angeles jury found this month that concert promoter AEG Live was not liable in Jackson's death, capping a long civil trial that laid bare the troubled singer's health problems, struggles with drugs and fateful attempt at a comeback tour. The issues in court included who was responsible for hiring Murray and overseeing his treatment of Jackson.
Wass' claim that Murray has a contingent of "loyal" patients prompted heckling from the cluster of fans.
Wass turned to face the pop star's supporters.
"Do you guys mind?" she asked, her voice rising. "This group of fans isn't respecting [Jackson's] legacy."
Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.