Jackson trial: Drama and emotion

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Old 29-Sep-2011
Jackson trial: Drama and emotion

UNP ImageFirst, prosecutors showed a photo of Michael Jackson's pale and lifeless body lying on a gurney. Then, they played a recording of his voice, just weeks before his death.

Slow and slurred, his words echoed on Tuesday through a Los Angeles courtroom at the start of the trial of the doctor accused of killing him. As a worldwide audience watched on TV and Jackson's family looked on from inside the courtroom, a drugged Jackson said:

"We have to be phenomenal. When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, ‘I've never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I've never seen nothing like this. Go. It's amazing. He's the greatest entertainer in the world.'"

Prosecutors played the audio for the first time during opening statements as they portrayed Dr Conrad Murray, 58, as an incompetent physician who used a dangerous anesthetic without adequate safeguards and whose neglect left the superstar abandoned as he lay dying.

Defence attorneys countered that Jackson caused his own death by taking a drug dose, including propofol, after Murray left the room.

Nothing the cardiologist could have done would have saved the King of Pop, defence attorney Ed Chernoff told jurors, because Jackson was desperate to regain his fame and needed rest to prepare for a series of crucial comeback concerts.

A number of Jackson's family members were in the courthouse, including his father Joseph, mother Katherine, sisters LaToya and Janet, and brothers Jermaine, Randy and Tito. LaToya Jackson carried a sunflower, her brother's favourite flower.

The family's most emotional moment came when the prosecutor played a video excerpt from Jackson's This Is It rehearsal in which he sang Earth Song, a plea for better treatment of the environment.

As Jackson sang the words, "I used to dream. I used to glance beyond the stars," his mother, Katherine, dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

Prosecutor David Walgren noted it was Jackson's last performance.

Murray, who arrived at court holding hands with his mother, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison and the loss of his medical license.

Speaking for more than an hour, Walgren relied on photos and audio recordings to paint Murray as an inept and reckless caretaker.

Walgren showed a photo of a lifeless Jackson on a hospital gurney. He juxtaposed the image with those of Jackson performing. Walgren also played the recording of Jackson speaking to Murray while, the prosecutor said, the singer was under the influence of an unknown substance roughly six weeks before his death.

The prosecutor said that Murray recorded the conversation with his groggy patient on his cell phone.

Jackson trusted Murray as his physician, and "that misplaced trust in Conrad Murray cost Michael Jackson his life," Walgren said.

Powerful anesthetic

The recurring theme was Jackson's never-ending quest for sleep and propofol, the potion he called his "milk" and that he believed was the answer. Jurors were told that it was a powerful anesthetic, not a sleep aid, and the prosecutor said Murray severely misused it.

Chernoff, the defence attorney, claimed the singer swallowed several pills of the sedative lorazepam on the morning of his death and that was enough to put six people to sleep. After taking a self-administered dose of propofol, Jackson did not even have a chance to close his eyes, Chernoff said, claiming he died instantly.

Chernoff, who had long hinted that the defence would blame Jackson for his own death, added a surprise. He claimed that Jackson died not because his doctor continued to give him the drug but because he stopped it, forcing Jackson to take extreme measures.

"What we will hear is that Dr Murray provided propofol for two months to Michael Jackson for sleep," Chernoff said. "During those two months, Michael Jackson slept. He woke up and he lived his life.

"The evidence will not show you that Michael Jackson died because Dr Murray gave him propofol. The evidence is going to show you Michael Jackson died when Dr Murray stopped," the attorney said.

He said Murray was trying to wean Jackson off of propofol and had been giving him other sleep aids known as benzodiazepines trying to lull him to sleep.

On June 25, 2009, the last day of Jackson's life, Chernoff said, he was in the third day of a weaning process and it didn't work.

"Michael Jackson started begging. He couldn't understand why he wasn't sleeping... When Michael Jackson told Dr Murray ‘I have to sleep. They will cancel my performance,' he meant it," Chernoff said.

Murray, in a recording of his interview with police detectives, acknowledged that he relented and agreed to give Jackson a small dose of propofol.

Walgren returned repeatedly to the fee Murray was to be paid — $150,000 (Dh550,980) a month — and pointed out that he first had asked for $5 million.

"There was no doctor-patient relationship," Walgren said. "...What existed here was an employer-employee relationship. He was not working for the health of Michael Jackson. Dr Murray was working for a fee of $150,000."

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