The trial of Dr. Conrad Murray in the drug overdose death of Michael Jackson ended with a resounding rebuke from the trial judge, who lambasted his treatment as “money for medicine madness.”
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor, in sentencing Murray to the maximum of four years on Tuesday, expressed shock over the doctor’s lack of remorse and criticized him for recently televised comments suggesting that the singer had “entrapped” him.
“Yipes! Talk about blaming the victim,” Pastor declared before sentencing Murray after the seven-week trial. “Not only isn’t there any remorse, there is umbrage and outrage on the part of Dr. Murray against the decedent.”
The judge described Murray’s use of a surgical anesthetic for insomnia as “horrible medicine” practiced by someone more concerned with collecting his $150,000-a-month salary than following the Hippocratic oath. He said he was astounded to hear the doctor say in a documentary broadcast earlier this month, “I do not feel guilty because I did not do anything wrong.”
“He has absolutely no sense of remorse, absolutely no sense of fault and is and remains dangerous,” Pastor said.
After the angry upbraiding, the judge imposed the statutory maximum — four years behind bars. But under a new state law, Murray will serve that sentence in L.A. County Jail rather than in a state prison. The law, designed to put the state in compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision about conditions in state prisons, affects nonviolent offenders such as Murray.
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the county Sheriff’s Department, said the most time Murray would spend in County Jail is two years under state sentencing guidelines.
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Tuesday that he is concerned Murray might actually spend less time in jail if the sheriff is forced to release inmates early because of overcrowding. Sheriff’s officials said they have made no decision on whether there will be early releases.
The 58-year-old cardiologist, convicted Nov. 7, has lost or is in the process of losing medical licenses he holds in three states, and his lawyer mused in court Tuesday about the possibility of his working as a coffee barista or a Wal-Mart greeter. Jailers have classified Murray as “mentally disturbed” and “suicidal,” according to a probation report.
In court Tuesday, Murray blew kisses toward his girlfriend and mother in the spectator’s gallery but stared impassively as the judge dressed him down.
Jackson’s relatives opted not to address the judge, but Brian Panish, an attorney for matriarch Katherine Jackson, read a statement on the family’s behalf describing the impact of the performer’s 2009 death and saying they wanted justice but not revenge.
“As Michael’s parents, we never have imagined we would live to witness his passing. It is simply against the natural order of things,” the statement read.
“As his children, we will grow up without a father, our best friend, our playmate and our dad,” it continued.
Katherine Jackson, 81, sat near four of her surviving children with her head bowed for much of the proceedings. In an interview with a probation officer collecting information for sentencing, she asked for the maximum penalty. “She noted that every morning he is the first thing she thinks about,” the official wrote.
Prosecutors had requested a state prison sentence, although they conceded to the judge that the new state law makes a jail term the only possible sentence. Cooley later said his office was contemplating an appeal of the sentence as a broader challenge to the new law.
“This is going to be the first of many high-publicity cases where the public is going to realize they were let down” by state legislators, he said.
Lead prosecutor David Walgren told the judge that rather than making one mistake, Murray had been “playing Russian roulette” with Jackson for two months leading up to his death. With the doctor’s nightly administering of propofol “in that reckless, obscene manner, Michael Jackson’s life was put at risk,” Walgren said.
Murray’s defense unsuccessfully argued for probation. Attorney Ed Chernoff urged the judge to consider the “book” of Murray’s life rather than the single chapter of his work for Jackson. Highlighting the doctor’s rise from poverty in Trinidad and his charity work, he asked, “What about the rest of his life, what about before Michael Jackson asked for propofol, what about that?”
The judge said he was not persuaded by the lawyer’s arguments or 35 letters sent on Murray’s behalf by patients, family and friends. Pastor seized on the defense’s own metaphor, saying, “Regrettably the most significant chapter as it relates to this case is the chapter regarding treatment or lack of treatment of Michael Jackson.”
“It should be made very clear that experimental medicine is not going to be tolerated, and Mr. Jackson was an experiment,” he said. Addressing a claim put forth throughout the trial by the defense, the judge said of the singer, “The fact that he participated in it does not excuse or lessen the blame of Dr. Murray, who simply could have walked away and said no, as countless others did.”
Pastor repeatedly spoke of failures in Murray’s character and said the piece of evidence that “stuck out the most” was a surreptitious recording the doctor made of a drug-addled Jackson.
“I have repeatedly asked myself: Why did this happen and for what reasons?” Pastor said. One conclusion, he said, was that Murray kept the recording to blackmail Jackson in case they had a falling-out. “That tape recording was Dr. Murray’s insurance policy.”
Prosecutors had asked the judge to order Murray to pay Jackson’s heirs $100 million in anticipated earnings from canceled concerts. The judge said he needed more information about the estate’s calculation to make a decision.
Los Angeles Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Matt Stevens and Richard Winton contributed to this report.