An attorney for the doctor charged in Michael Jackson’s death on Wednesday dropped the defense claim that the superstar swallowed a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol while the physician wasn’t looking. The defense claim had been a key tactic in the case of Dr. Conrad Murray. Attorney J. Michael Flanagan told the judge that he had commissioned a study about the effects of propofol if swallowed. The studies showed that any effect from swallowing propofol would be “trivial,” he said. “We are not going to assert at any time during this trial that Michael Jackson orally administered propofol,” Flanagan said. It was unclear if the defense planned to argue if Jackson might have injected himself with the fatal dose.
In recent days, Flanagan has focused his questions toward prosecution witnesses on the effect that the sedative lorazepam might have had on Jackson. Lorazepam was detected in Jackson’s stomach contents after he died. Deputy District Attorney David Walgren and Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor appeared surprised by the disclosure, which was not made in front of jurors. Lead defense attorney Ed Chernoff said during opening statements on Sept. 27 that his team would try to show that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose of propofol. Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors are in the final stages of their case against Murray, with three expert witnesses set to testify about their impressions of Murray’s actions in the days and hours before Jackson’s death and his efforts to revive him. On Wednesday, Walgren called Dr. Alon Steinberg, a cardiologist who told jurors that Murray’s conduct violated the standard of care in several ways. He said Murray lacked the propofol monitoring or life-saving equipment when he was giving Jackson the anesthetic and other sedatives as a sleep aid.
Authorities say Murray gave Jackson a fatal dose of the surgical anesthetic in June 2009. A medical examiner told jurors Tuesday that it was unreasonable to believe that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose of propofol when Murray left the room for only two minutes. Dr. Christopher Rogers, who conducted the autopsy on Jackson, testified it was more likely that Murray overdosed the singer when he incorrectly estimated how much of the drug he was giving Jackson to induce sleep to fight insomnia. He said Murray had no precision dosing device available in the bedroom of Jackson’s rented mansion.
“The circumstances, from my point of view, do not support self-administration of propofol,” said Rogers, chief of forensic medicine in the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.
Murray told police he gave Jackson only 25 milligrams of the drug, a very small dose that usually would have kept him asleep for no more than five minutes. Rogers said he examined evidence found in Jackson’s bedroom and noted there was an empty 100 milliliter bottle of propofol. Rogers said the cause of death was “acute propofol intoxication and the contributing condition was the benzodiazepine effect.”
Two sedatives from that drug group – lorazepam and midazolam – were found in Jackson’s system after he died. Rogers also testified it would be inappropriate to use propofol outside a hospital or medical clinic.
Flanagan spent more than two hours Tuesday trying to show on cross-examination that Jackson indeed could have self-administered drugs — not just propofol but the sedative lorazepam, which could be taken in pill form. Flanagan suggested to the witness that once Murray had started an IV drip of propofol for Jackson and left the room, “it would be easy for someone to inject into that IV?”
“Yes,” Rogers replied.
“But if they pushed it all at once, that can stop your heart, can’t it?” the lawyer asked.
“Yes,” said Rogers.
The implication was that if Jackson was desperate for sleep and in a hurry to administer more propofol before his doctor returned, he might have given himself a fatal dose. But Rogers noted that investigators don’t really know what happened when Murray left the room, so they were left to consider what is reasonable.