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Michael Jackson's death: Second autopsy completed at the request of Jackson's family

June 27, 2009 |  6:08 pm

The Jackson family has hired a private pathologist who completed a second autopsy on the performer's body today, according to sources familiar with the case.

The second autopsy came a day after an initial examination by the L.A. County coroner’s office did not immediately determine a cause of death.  Officials said additional lab tests, including a toxicology screen, were required to uncover why the 50-year-old pop starwent into cardiac arrest in his rented Holmby Hills mansion Thursday.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who visited the performer’s family Friday, said in a “Good Morning America” interview today that his relatives had a host of questions about the circumstances of his death. He indicated the key area of concern had to do with Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, who was by his side when he stopped breathing.

 "When did the doctor come? What did he do? Did he inject him? If so, with what?" Jackson said. "Was he on the scene twice? Before and then reaction to? Did he use the Demerol? It's a very powerful drug. Was he injected once? Was he injected twice?"

Murray, who hired a Houston attorney, was to meet with Los Angeles Police Department investigators this afternoon at an undisclosed location. Families often opt for a second autopsy because they either distrust officials or because they’d like a second opinion to be assured of the cause of death, former medical examiners said.

One of the immediate benefits of getting a second autopsy is giving the family a chance for answers before the official autopsy results are released by the county, said Michael Baden, chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police and former chief medical examiner for New York City.

In Jackson’s case, a coroner’s official estimated toxicology results could take four to six weeks.

“Certainly, the family can get more information more quickly than waiting for the first autopsy,” Baden said. He said a private pathologist can get results from a private lab in a week or two.

“The second autopsy will give the family a lot more information than they have right away, within a few days,” Baden said.

The second autopsy can also give comfort to family members seeking confidence in a person they’ve hired who will talk to them in greater length or more detail than county authorities might be willing to do,  said Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist and former coroner in Allegheny County, Pa. Wecht conducted the second autopsy of Anna Nicole Smith’s son.

Still, there are limitations of a second autopsy. The reason an official autopsy can take four to six weeks to complete is that officials are proceeding with a methodology to provide a chain of evidence that will be admissible in court, “and that takes a little bit of time,” Baden said.

Additionally, several weeks of investigatory time also allows coroner's officials to review medical records, prescriptions and other factors that will help them to best determine the cause of death, Wecht said.

One result of a second autopsy, however, could be that the family releases those results before the official autopsy is released, which could spur confusion if county officials' results are different.

“Strategically, they would be foolish” to release the second autopsy’s results first, Wecht said.

--Andrew Blankstein, Rong-Gong Lin II and Harriet Ryan

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