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Michael Jackson's doctor left singer alone after giving him powerful drug, sources say

August 13, 2009 |  6:00 am

Michael Jackson smiles for cameras at the announcement of nominations for the 1995 MTV Video Awards on July 25. Jackson's video for "Scream'' was nominated for 11 awards that year.

Michael Jackson’s personal physician left the performer alone and under the influence of a powerful anesthetic to make telephone calls the morning the pop singer died, according to three people familiar with the investigation.

By the time he returned, Jackson had stopped breathing, the sources said.

Dr. Conrad Murray, 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 treatment for insomnia, said the sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because the investigation is ongoing.

In an interview with Los Angeles police detectives two days after Jackson’s death, Murray acknowledged obtaining and administering the medication, the sources said. He reportedly told police that the singer had returned to his rented Holmby Hills mansion in the early hours of June 25 exhausted from a lengthy concert rehearsal but was unable to sleep.

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Jackson had been using propofol as a sleep aid on and off for a decade, according to one law enforcement source. Murray told investigators that he had given Jackson doses of the drug repeatedly since taking a $150,000-a-month job as his doctor in May, the sources said.

The 51-year-old cardiologist told detectives that because there had never been a problem in the past, he felt comfortable leaving Jackson alone to place calls on his cellphone, the sources said. It’s unclear how long Murray was out of Jackson’s bedroom.

When Murray returned, the 50-year-old pop star was not breathing. Murray performed CPR on Jackson, and another person called 911. Paramedics arrived and rushed Jackson to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m.

Murray has maintained that he did nothing wrong. His attorney, Edward Chernoff, has repeatedly declined to say whether his client gave Jackson propofol. Asked Wednesday about the version of events outlined by the 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.”

Chernoff confirmed that the doctor had spent time on the phone talking to family members and employees in his medical offices before he discovered Jackson stricken in a bedroom. Investigators pursuing the case have focused on whether Murray’s use of propofol outside the hospital setting and his decision to leave Jackson alone rose to a level of negligence required for an involuntary manslaughter charge.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office has concluded its investigation into Jackson’s death but, at the request of the LAPD, has not released its findings. Evidence gathered during the investigation suggests that the propofol admission alone might not be enough to charge Murray with manslaughter.

Other prescription drugs, including an anti-anxiety medication, were found in Jackson’s system along with a limited amount of propofol. The law enforcement source said the presence of the other drugs without a massive amount of propofol could complicate any prosecution.

The other drugs may have amplified the effect of the anesthetic and depressed Jackson’s breathing, sources said. Another factor is Jackson’s history of drug addiction and his prior use of propofol in particular. In an interview Wednesday, Chernoff suggested that Murray did not realize what he was signing up for when he agreed to become Jackson’s doctor.

“When he accepted the job, he was not aware of any specific requirements regarding medications that Michael Jackson was taking or any addictions that he was suffering from,” Chernoff said.

But after relocating to Los Angeles, “he realized that Michael Jackson had some very unusual problems,” the lawyer said.

Chernoff criticized what he called selective leaks by investigators and said they had rushed to portray Murray as guilty and the anesthetic as the cause of death. “From the beginning, they leaked that propofol killed him. It has appeared the investigation was designed to support a conclusion they already made with regard to Dr. Murray,” the lawyer said.

He said it was evident from their searches of Murray’s properties in Las Vegas and Houston that investigators thought drugs other than propofol played a role in the death. Investigators were looking for evidence that the doctor prescribed Jackson the other medications, he said.

“I have no doubt they came up completely empty in that regard,” he said.

Murray is one of at least five doctors whose conduct is being examined by the LAPD with the aid of the Drug Enforcement Administration in connection with Jackson. Although several have had records subpoenaed by the coroner’s office, Murray is the only one to be publicly identified as a suspect.

Dmitry Gorin, a defense lawyer who was a deputy district attorney, said that to prove involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors would have to show that Murray’s conduct was reckless to the 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.

-- Harriet Ryan, Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

More photos and video at www.latimes.com/michaeljackson

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