A Los Angeles County jury convicted Michael Jackson’s personal physician of involuntary manslaughter, concluding a trial that offered a glimpse of the last days of one of the world’s most famous men by deciding that his death was a criminal act.
The verdict was delivered Monday in a windowless downtown L.A. courtroom a world away from the turreted Holmby Hills mansion where Dr. Conrad Murray had a $150,000 a month position that included providing what the pop star called “milk” — the surgical anesthetic that ultimately claimed his life.
With its verdict, the jury found that Murray acted with criminal negligence and that those actions were a substantial factor in Jackson’s 2009 death. The panel rejected the defense assertion that Jackson gave himself a fatal overdose of propofol and therefore bore complete responsibility for his own death.
Immediately after the verdict, Murray was placed in handcuffs at the direction of the judge, to remain in custody pending his Nov. 29 sentencing.
“This is a crime where the end result was the death of a human being. That factor demands rather dramatically that the public should be protected,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said.
The cardiologist, who had once told patients that working for Jackson was “the opportunity of a lifetime,” faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
The stern approach Pastor took in sending Murray to jail rather than releasing him on bail suggested the minimum sentence of probation is unlikely.
Authorities in Texas and Nevada are expected to revoke his medical licenses. The California Medical Board suspended his license earlier this year.
A law enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said Murray was placed on suicide watch at L.A. County Jail.
After the verdict, Murray’s jury consultant, John G. McCabe, said the doctor’s biggest challenge had been the intense coverage of the singer’s death. Of the nearly 150 citizens in the jury pool, every one said they had heard of the case against Murray.
He noted that propofol, unknown outside of anesthesiology circles the day Jackson died, quickly entered the common vocabulary as “that powerful, dangerous surgical anesthetic.”
“Would the verdict have come out the way it did if there hadn’t been two years of pretrial publicity? We’ll never know,” he said.
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley denied that the case was brought only because it involved Jackson and said his office would prosecute any doctor.
“To the extent that someone dies as a result of their being a so-called Dr. Feelgood, they will be held accountable,” Cooley said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren, the lead prosecutor, echoed a theme of his own summation. Jackson, he said, was “not a pop icon but a son and a brother, and that’s most important to keep in mind today.”
The verdict came on the second day of deliberations and was read to a packed courtroom that included Jackson’s parents, some of his siblings and devoted fans. As a court clerk pronounced the word “guilty,” there was a gasp from the singer’s family.
Across the aisle, Murray’s mother sat stoically as other supporters sobbed. During the six-week proceedings, prosecutors painted Murray as greedy and incompetent and accused him of abandoning his medical judgment in complying with Jackson’s request to be given the anesthetic propofol to put him to sleep. Murray, prosecutors said, acted not as a medical professional but as an employee, corrupting the “hallowed” doctor-patient relationship.
Witnesses testified to many egregious medical missteps — giving propofol in an unmonitored setting, fumbling at basic resuscitation and keeping no records –- failures that experts said directly led to Jackson’s overdose.
As Jackson stopped breathing and suffered cardiac arrest under the influence of propofol, jurors were told, the doctor chatted on the phone and sent and received e-mail and text messages. He delayed calling for help and lied to paramedics and emergency doctors, witnesses said.
Central to the government’s case were the doctor’s own words from a police interview two days after Jackson’s death. In the 21/2 -hour tape, Murray admitted giving the singer the propofol — caving in after Jackson repeatedly begged for it, he said — as well as two other drugs earlier in the day.
Admissions in the interview were enough evidence of the doctor’s guilt, medical experts testified. But the prosecution’s star witness also said levels of the drug found during an autopsy showed Murray probably gave Jackson 40 times as much propofol as he told police.
The doctor’s defense said Jackson died by his own hand when the star, nervous about performing and addicted to a painkiller that rendered him completely unable to sleep, swallowed a sedative and injected himself with propofol.
No defense witness, however, directly addressed a point the prosecution’s medical experts repeatedly drove home: that even if Jackson gave himself the drugs, Murray was equally liable for leaving his patient in a situation where he could do so.
Throughout the trial, fans who once staked out Jackson’s home lined the court hallways, huddling around laptops and mobile devices to watch the proceedings. During closing arguments, they cried, prayed and cheered along with the prosecutor’s closing and hissed at the defense attorney’s summation. Prosecutors were often greeted with thundering applause in the halls.
“We should have had you guys do the O.J. trial!” one man shouted last week.
If they came expecting to hear details of Jackson’s life, they were disappointed as the judge barred references to the singer’s finances and history of drug use. What they got was a peek into the mind of a man with a grandiose vision for his comeback shows and his own legacy, but plagued by insomnia and saddled with mounting pressure about the series of 50 concerts. To everyone’s surprise, jurors heard directly from a seemingly drug-addled Jackson in a voice recording from six weeks before his death.
“When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.... He’s the greatest entertainer in the world,’ ” Jackson said in the recording, found on Murray’s phone.
Times staff writers Joel Rubin, Paloma Esquivel, Matt Stevens, Ricardo Lopez and Robert Faturechi contributed to this report.