By Linda Deutsch
LOS ANGELES–Michael Jackson’s doctor was convicted Monday of involuntary manslaughter in the pop star’s death for supplying an insomnia-plagued Jackson with a powerful operating-room anesthetic to help him sleep as he rehearsed for his big comeback.
Dr. Conrad Murray, 58, sat stone-faced, his chin held high, as he heard the verdict that could send him to prison for up to four years and cost him his license to practice medicine. He was handcuffed and immediately led off to jail without bail to await sentencing Nov. 29.
The verdict marked the latest chapter in one of pop culture’s most shocking tragedies – the 2009 drug-overdose death of the King of Pop at age 50 as he was about to mount a series of heavily promoted concerts in London that he hoped would turn his career around after a slide prompted by child-molestation allegations and years of bizarre behavior.
A shriek broke the silence in the packed courtroom when the jury’s decision was read, and the crowd outside the courthouse erupted in cheers. Jubilant Jackson fans sang “Beat It” and held signs that read “Guilty” and “Killer.” Drivers honked their horns.
Members of Jackson’s family wept, and his mother, Katherine Jackson, said, “I feel better now.” His sister La Toya said she was overjoyed and added: “Michael was looking over us.”
Members of the jury were escorted from the building and not available for comment. Murray’s lawyers also left without saying anything.
The jury deliberated less than nine hours after a six-week trial that depicted Jackson as a tormented genius on the brink of what might have been his greatest triumph but for one impediment – extreme insomnia.
Prosecutors portrayed Murray as an incompetent doctor who administered propofol – an extremely potent anesthetic normally used during surgery – in Jackson’s bedroom without adequate safeguards and botched his care when things went wrong.
Murray, who did not testify, told police that he administered only a small dose on the day Jackson died. And his lawyers blamed Jackson for his own death, saying the singer gave himself an extra, lethal dose while Murray wasn’t watching.
Prosecutors said that theory was crazy, and in any case, they argued, Murray should not have left Jackson alone.
The jury was not asked to determine whether Murray actually gave Jackson the fatal dose, only whether he was primarily responsible for the singer’s death.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren extended his sympathies to the Jackson family, who “lost not a pop icon, but a son and a father.”
In Las Vegas, a former Murray patient and current friend, Donna DiGiacomo, sobbed and said the jury was under “overwhelming pressure to convict.”
“This man didn’t deserve this. They needed a scapegoat,” said DiGiacomo, a former Long Island, N.Y., teacher’s aide who said she didn’t believe Murray did anything to intentionally harm Jackson.
Testimony came from medical experts, household employees and Murray’s former girlfriends, among others. The most shocking moments, however, came when prosecutors displayed a large picture of Jackson’s gaunt, lifeless body on a hospital gurney and played his drugged, slurred voice, as recorded by Murray just weeks before the singer’s death.
Jackson talked about his hope of cementing a legacy larger than that of Elvis Presley or the Beatles.
“We have to be phenomenal,” he said about his “This Is It” concerts in London. “When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, ‘I’ve never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I’ve never seen nothing like this. Go. It’s amazing. He’s the greatest entertainer in the world.”‘
Craving sleep, Jackson had searched for a doctor who would give him the intravenous propofol that Jackson called his “milk” and believed to be his salvation. Other medical professionals turned him down, according to testimony.
Prosecutors said Murray abandoned his medical judgment for money: According to testimony, Jackson planned to pay the cardiologist $150,000 a month for an extended tour in Europe.
Murray gave up his practices in Houston and Las Vegas and agreed to travel with Jackson and be his personal physician indefinitely. For six weeks, as Jackson undertook strenuous rehearsals, Murray infused him with propofol every night, the doctor told police. He said he later tried to wean Jackson from the drug because he feared he was becoming addicted.
In the end, the doctor was never paid a penny because Jackson died before signing a contract with Murray.
The circumstances of Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, were as bizarre as any chapter in the superstar’s sensational life story.
During the last 24 hours of his life, Jackson sang and danced at a spirited rehearsal, reveling in the adulation of fans who greeted him outside. Testimony showed Murray gave Jackson intravenous doses that night of the sedatives lorazepam and midazolam. Jackson also took a Valium pill. But nothing seemed to bring sleep.
Finally, Murray told police, he gave the singer a small dose of propofol – 25 milligrams – that seemed to put him to sleep. The doctor said he felt it was safe to leave his patient’s bedside for a few minutes, but Jackson was not breathing when he returned. Witnesses said he was most likely dead at that point.
What happened next was a matter of dispute during the trial. Security and household staff described Murray as panicked, never calling 911 but trying to give Jackson CPR on his bed instead of on the firm floor. A guard said Murray was concerned with packing up and hiding medicine bottles and IV equipment before telling him to call 911.
There is no law against administering propofol or the other sedatives. But expert witnesses for the prosecution said that using propofol at home without lifesaving equipment on hand was an egregious deviation from the standard of medical care. Prosecutors called it gross negligence, the legal basis for an involuntary manslaughter charge.