Murder, manslaughter, medical malpractice? Trial of Michael Jackson’s personal physician



The trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, the former personal physician of pop star Michael Jackson, finally got underway Tuesday, September 20th 2011 in the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse.



Dr. Murray is being charged with the crime of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of the King of Pop who died of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol on June 25th, 2009.  Dr.Murray has pleaded not guilty to the charge. The trial will produce a highly emotional and very dramatic atmosphere that has not been seen since the O.J. Simpson murder trial.


I.   Why is not Dr. Murray being charged with murder?


Like the Simpson trial there are many confusing legal issues to be addressed. The first and foremost is why is not Dr. Murray being charged with murder? The L.A. district attorney was originally planning to charge Dr. Murray with second degree murder  but changed the charge  to involuntary manslaughter which they feel will be much easier to prove in court. According to the website www., the charge of manslaughter is defined as follows: “the unlawful killing of another person without premeditation or so called malice afterthought” (an evil intent prior to the killing).  It is distinguished from murder (which brings greater penalties) by lack of any prior intention to kill anyone or create a deadly situation. There are two levels of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter includes killing in heat or passion or while committing a felony. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a death is caused by a violation of a non-felony such as reckless driving (called vehicular manslaughter). The charge of 2nd degree murder is a non-premeditated killing resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility. 2nd degree murder is different from 1st degree murder which is a premeditated, intentional killing resulting from a vicious crime such as arson, rape, or armed robbery.


Docteur Murray

Docteur Murray


II.   Was Dr. Murray negligent?


The defense team of Dr. Murray feels the charge will be hard to prove if they can show that Michael Jackson was responsible for his own death. Dr. Murray has stated he was unaware of Jackson’s use of propofol before he accepted the $150,000 dollar per month job.  He became worried Michael was addicted to his “milk” as Jackson called it. So why did Dr. Murray carry on giving Jackson propofol for two months leading up to the day Jackson died? He allegedly left Jackson all alone under the influence of propofol on that tragic morning and then failed to resuscitate him when he stopped breathing.  Jackson had chronic insomnia and was being given the “milk” as a sleep aid. Propofol, however has never been established as a sleeping aid and by law is only to be administered in hospitals. Furthermore it took Dr. Murray 30 minutes to call 911 as he tried to cover up his errors and did not inform medics he had ever given Michael the anesthetic when they arrived. The main legal issue of this trial is was Dr. Murray negligent in giving propofol to Jackson even if he asked for it? Large quantities of sedatives and propofol were found in Jackson’s home after his death. Witnesses say Dr. Murray implemented ploys of blatant misrepresentation to obtain excessive amounts of the drugs. Is he fraudulent? According to attorney and legal analyst Matt Semino, “Dr. Murray exploited loopholes in the system, turned a blind eye, became sloppy, tried to cover up his mistakes and then got caught. It certainly could have turned out differently.


III.   Policy issues at stake


Legal and medical establishments must now start to address issues of policy. What are the acceptable conditions of a private doctor patient relationship? Who is responsible for the health of the patient? How can illegal trafficking of potentially lethal pharmaceutical drugs be halted? How can we enforce professional medical ethics and who will decide what they are?  These are questions and issues Dr.Murray may have a long time to think about because if convicted, Dr. Conrad Murray could not only lose his right to practice medicine, but he could also be incarcerated for up to four years. Michael Jackson on the other hand had been to court many times through his storied yet complicated life as the alleged culprit yet this time he is undoubtedly the tragic victim. To what degree of the law he is a victim remains to be seen in court.
Robert W. Curley, Jr.
Consultant for Business Law in English
for coaching sessions please contact:
[email protected]

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