After only nine hours of deliberation, the California jury in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, returned a guilty verdict. Altogether, we’re not surprised. Indeed, we “called it” just minutes before the verdict.
The main problem for Dr. Murray was that the evidence against him was damning. Rather than re-iterate all of it, we’ll simply summarize the primary problems for Dr. Murray’s defense team: 1) propofol is not meant for use as a sedative or for administration outside of a hospital, 2) the doctor reacted inappropriately and ineffectively to the emergency, and 3) the apparent cover-up made it look terrible for him.
The issue of propofol and its proper use and how it was administered to Jackson was central to this trial. Unfortunately for Murray, the use of propofol for non-surgical purposes and outside of a hospital were not accepted as reasonable by the scientific community, and there were no experts to oppose that. In that sense, the defense expert that testified that Jackson might have given himself the fatal extra dose of propofol was irrelevant, because arguably it shouldn’t have even been in the room in the first place, and it was the doctor’s responsibility to know that. Basically, the defense team was totally boxed in – there never really was a good justification for the manner in which the doctor was administering the propofol. Their only plausibly defensible explanation was that the doctor was trying to wean Jackson off of the medication, but there really wasn’t any sworn evidence to that effect (more on this later).
It also didn’t look good for Murray that he left Jackson – probably a propofol addict – alone in a room with propofol on a drip while he went to text and talk to his multiple girlfriends. That fact made him seem a little cavalier about the powerful and dangerous drug that he was putting into Jackson’s system. Sadly for him, if he had been on the phone talking to another patient about an emergency, the jury might have cut him some slack; unfortunately, he seemingly took a timeout from his doctorly duties to play the field. There was also some evidence that he was too slow to call 911, which not only was medically imprudent but also fed the perception that he was hoping to cover-up his use of propofol without the authorities finding out.
The evidence of an attempted cover-up by Dr. Murray was also exceptionally damaging. There was evidence that Dr. Murray tried to go back to the home to remove the evidence of the propofol (which obviously indicates that he knew that he shouldn’t have been using it that way, and that the propofol had likely caused the death), and he declined to tell the EMT workers or the treating physicians at the hospital about the propofol when he was asked the direct question about the medications that Jackson had been taking just prior to his death. Certainly, if the doctor was acting like he knew that he had acted in appropriately in giving him propofol this way, it’s hard to convince the jury that he did nothing wrong.
Given the result, it is easy to play armchair quarterback and criticize the decision not to allow Dr. Murray to testify (after all, the result couldn’t have been any worse for him). Generally speaking, defense lawyers prefer to have their clients remain silent. Personally, I think defense lawyers are frequently a bit too scared to put their clients on the stands. When the client is an educated professional with no criminal record (see Raj Rajaratnam, for example), he is probably going to come across as relatively articulate and respectable. Why defense lawyers don’t more frequently try to show juries that their accomplished clients are decent human beings worthy of forgiveness and pity is beyond me. Then again, Murray’s defense team may have decided that Dr. Murray didn’t present well, or maybe Murray was just too scared to testify before the world and the cameras. Aside from the subjective perceptions game, which I think can be critical in trials, Dr. Murray could have testified as to his only real substantive defense in using propofol: that Jackson was an addict, and though his use of the drug was outside of acceptable medical practice, he was only administering it because he was trying to gradually wean him off of his addiction. Without the doctor’s testimony there really wasn’t much to support this defense, however.
Much will probably be said about the effect that publicity had on the trial, but Casey Anthony’s case should have proven that jurors will generally do the right thing and judge the case objectively and based on the evidence even when protestors are lined up and screaming for convictions. The problem for Dr. Murray is that the evidence objectively proved his guilt.
If you’d like to contact the authors of this article, visit their website at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP.