Attorneys claim Michael Jackson was drug addict, wants inner circle to testify
Defense lawyers for Michael Jackson's personal physician signaled Monday that they intend to rely on witnesses from Jackson's own inner circle to portray the singer as a desperate drug addict constantly "on the hunt" for the surgical anesthetic that killed him.
In papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, attorneys for Dr. Conrad Murray detailed the testimony they plan to elicit at the physician's upcoming trial from a host of Jackson confidants, including longtime friends, medical providers, the nanny to his three children and his make-up artist.
Most of these insiders have not cooperated with Murray's defense. But in the court filing, his lawyers suggest that accounts the prospective witnesses gave police concerning Jackson's drug use and career worries make their testimony vital to the doctor's claim that Jackson gave himself a fatal dose of propofol.
Jackson's longtime make-up artist Karen Faye, for example, told detectives that the recording star "was weak, extremely thin and seemed to be under the influence of drugs" the week before his death and told her he didn't think he could "physically complete" a 50-show comeback attempt in London, according to the filing.
A friend, Susan Etok, told police the singer expressed the same doubts about performing in the "This Is It" shows and asked her to help him get propofol and other drugs, the filing states.
The nanny, Grace Rwaramba, told investigators she had repeatedly tried to stage interventions and once fielded a call from Jackson's children when their father had passed out on the floor. She was fired two months before the singer's death after complaining about his drug use, according to the filing.
Whether jurors will hear from those closest to Jackson remains unclear. Prosecutors have questioned the relevance of the confidants' testimony. A hearing before Judge Michael Pastor is set for Monday afternoon.
Murray's lawyers have said they will present evidence that another doctor, Beverly Hills dermatologist Arnold Klein, was giving Jackson the narcotic painkiller Demerol "for no valid medical purpose" and that the singer sought propofol to deal with severe insomnia, a side effect of the painkiller that was hindering rehearsals for his make-or-break comeback effort.
Defense attorney Edward Chernoff said in an interview that the intimate accounts of Jackson's friends and employees were meant not to malign the pop star but to document a drug addiction that stretched back to the 1990s.
"We're not interested in character assassination. If the prosecution would concede the Demerol addiction, it would greatly reduce the number of witnesses we need to call," he said.
In their court papers, Chernoff and another defense lawyer, Nareg Gourjian, wrote that they expect prosecutors to argue that the singer was not an addict and only "liked" Demerol.
The defense also hopes to summon more than ten medical professionals to the witness stand to recount Jackson's use of and desire for propofol and other drugs. Among them are:
• David Adams, a Las Vegas physician who the defense filing says told police that Jackson "was so familiar with" propofol that he referred to it as "milk."
• Cherilyn Lee, a nurse, who is said to have told investigators that Jackson pledged to pay "her or another doctor whatever they wanted" for propofol.
• Allen Metzger, a West Hollywood doctor who according to the filing said Jackson sought intravenous sleep medication two months before his death.
Prosecutors have asked the judge to bar testimony from other doctors and medical professionals who treated Jackson over the years, saying the only issue for jurors is Murray's conduct.
"None of these individuals was caring for Michael Jackson on the night of June 24, 2009, or the day of June 25, 2009, and none of these doctors was present with Michael Jackson when he died of acute propofol intoxication," wrote David Walgren and Deborah Brazil, deputy L.A. County district attorneys.
The defense also intends to call a Santa Barbara sheriff's detective to the stand to testify that a 2003 search of Jackson's Neverland estate in connection with a child molestation investigation yielded propofol and Demerol. A jury acquitted Jackson in 2005 and prosecutors have said they oppose any mention of the molestation case at Murray's trial.
Murray is charged with involuntary manslaughter. Jury selection in his trial is set for Sept. 8.
-- Harriet Ryan
Photo: Dr. Conrad Murray, right, in Los Angeles Superior Court in January 2010. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times