Defense expert concedes Conrad Murray violated medical care standards [Updated]
A defense medical expert conceded Monday that Michael Jackson’s personal physician violated the standard of medical care by providing the pop star with a surgical anesthetic in his home.
At the start of a cross-examination that is expected to last all day, Dr. Paul White, the defense’s most important witness, acknowledged the treatment the doctor gave Jackson for two months before his death was potentially life-threatening.
“Without careful bedside monitoring, it could be dangerous,” said White, a leading anesthesiologist and expert in the drug propofol.
“Could it result in death?” a prosecutor pressed.
“If the infusion somehow came opened up widely … certainly you could achieve a significant effect that could result in cardiopulmonary arrest,” White replied.
White’s conclusions were in direct opposition to the findings of a key prosecution expert who testified that the drug evidence showed Murray allowed a massive amount of propofol to enter Jackson’s body through an intravenous tube.
White admitted when testifying for the defense that he could not explain Murray’s medical care and Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren seized on that point Monday.
“Have you ever administered propofol in someone’s bedroom?” Walgren asked.
“No, I have not,” the witness said.
"Had you ever heard of someone doing that prior to this case?” the prosecutor continued.
“No, I had not,” he said.
The prosecutor grilled White about Murray’s approximately 20-minute delay in summoning an ambulance.
The expert said he would have called 911 immediately, but suggested Murray “reacted as many physicians would.”
“He was probably very anxious and in those situations, it is very stressful for anyone,” he said.
Walgren ridiculed his response, noting Murray was by his own admission to police holding a cellphone in his hand.
“Are you saying he wasn’t capable of pressing 911?” the prosecutor snapped.
White shrugged off the question, but later said Jackson would have died no matter how quickly help came. At several points, White attempted to relate information he had learned in what he described as “two extensive conversations” with Murray.
Those discussions are not admissible in court and the prosecutor objected repeatedly to any references to accounts other than the one Murray gave police.
Judge Michael Pastor chided White to listen carefully to the prosecutor’s questions.
[Updated 10:39 a.m., Oct. 31: But when the references continued, Pastor sent jurors out of the room to discuss the matter with the lawyers.
Walgren protested that White was intentionally dropping mentions of his conversations with Murray.
Defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan said White could not be expected to specifically recall what information he got from Murray’s police interview and what information he got from his meetings with Murray.
“Nice try,” Pastor said. "This is so obvious .... He’s trying at every juncture to add in other material. It’s deliberate, I don’t like it, it’s not going to happen again.”]
Walgren asked White if he believed Murray had broken the physician’s oath: “First, do no harm.”
“I think he was providing a service to Mr. Jackson which he had requested, in fact insisted upon,” White replied, referring to the singer’s requests to numerous medical doctors for propofol to address his chronic insomnia.
The prosecution has previously accused Murray of acting more like an employee than a physician and Walgren emphasized the witness’ use of the term “service.”
“Well, medical care is a better word than service,” White said.
White said he had been paid $11,000 for his work on the defense so far.
Asked if he expected to receive additional compensation for attending court a dozen days, White said his normal day rate was $3,500, but he did not expect to get it because the defense had “limited financial resources.”
Murray, 58, stands accused of involuntary manslaughter. The case is expected to go to the jury later this week. He faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.
-- Harriet Ryan at Los Angeles County Superior Court
Photo: Dr. Paul White testifying Friday. Credit: Paul Buck / Pool