Investigators are still weeks away from a definite conclusion in the probe of Michael Jackson’s death, underscoring the complexity of determining wrongdoing in case involving multiple doctors and multiple drugs.
Law enforcement sources told The Times that while a clear picture is emerging as to how Jackson died, detectives are still building a case they can bring to L.A. County prosecutors showing criminal wrongdoing.
This involves reconciling dozens of witness interviews with the coroner’s cause of death investigation, and the drugs and other “medical evidence” found at the Holmby Hills mansion when the pop star was stricken on June 25, said the sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because it was an ongoing investigation.
Detectives clearly have a strong working theory of what happened – but more follow-up investigations are needed, the sources said.
The investigation has focused in large part on Jackson’s personal physician, Conrad Murray. Law enforcement sources told The Times last week that on the morning the pop singer died, Murray left the performer alone and under the influence of a powerful anesthetic to make telephone calls, according to three people familiar with the investigation.
By the time the doctor had returned, Jackson had stopped breathing, the sources said.
Murray has been identified in court records as a suspect in a police manslaughter investigation, legally acquired the operating room drug propofol from a Las Vegas pharmacy and gave it to Jackson as a treatment for insomnia, said the sources.
Legal experts said it makes sense for detectives to take time to build a strong case.
Dmitry Gorin, a defense lawyer who used to work as a deputy district attorney, said that to prove involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors would have to show that Murray’s conduct was reckless to a point that no reasonable physician would consider such a course of treatment.
“They’d use medical experts to show that the lack of monitoring equipment, lack of staff and leaving the room was so beyond the pale of what a professional would do,” Gorin said.
But Gorin noted that doctors are rarely convicted of a crime related to their care of a patient, so the evidence detectives are gathering need to be strong.
Defense attorney James Blatt said another question is whether Jackson told his various doctors about all the drugs he was taking and the state of his health.
If not, doctors could use that as a defense.
“Was he less than candid about other medications he was taken? Were there medical problems or history? He appears to be drastically underweight and exercising strenuously in combination with his age, a 50-year-old man,” Blatt said.
Murray acknowledged obtaining and administering the medication in an interview with Los Angeles police detectives two days after Jackson's death, the sources said.
Murray has maintained that he did nothing wrong. His attorney, Edward Chernoff, has repeatedly declined to say whether his client gave Jackson propofol. Asked this week about the version of events outlined by sources, the lawyer said: "I'm not going to dispute the police officers' claims in that regard. They were there at the interview, and Dr. Murray did not lie to them. But they are not telling the whole story."
Murray is one of at least five doctors whose conduct is being examined by the LAPD and the Drug Enforcement Administration in connection with Jackson's death. Although several physicians have had records subpoenaed by the coroner's office, Murray has been the only one publicly identified as a suspect.
--Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein