MJ: Haze of meds hangs over trial

2011-10-30 23:29

Los Angeles - At times the wood-lined courtroom could have passed for a medical lecture theatre: experts with saline drip stands and complicated graphs earnestly demonstrating the half-life of benzodiazepines.

Except that you don't usually see Janet and LaToya Jackson sitting in the back of a pharmacology class, listening attentively to explanations of sedation thresholds and titration techniques.

But this has been the scene in the plainly furnished room on the ninth floor of the LA Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles, where Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray has been on trial for the last five weeks.

Michael Jackson has been the spectre hanging over proceedings which come to a climax this week.

"Let's deal with the elephant in the room here," defence attorney Michael Flanagan intoned last Thursday. "Conrad Murray has been accused of infusing a dose of propofol and leaving his patient. Can you justify that?"

His star witness, Dr Paul White, couldn't.

But that was what he was here for, to debunk the prosecution claim that Grenada-born medic Murray was guilty of involuntary manslaughter over the King of Pop's 2009 death.

Dull

Murray - who has sat grim-faced throughout the sometimes harrowing, sometimes eye-glazingly dull testimony - denies the charge.

His iPad-wielding lawyers Ed Chernoff and lugubrious sidekick Flanagan have done their best to defy the odds and get him off, arguing that Jackson was a desperate addict who would have killed himself accidentally anyway.

They have been helped by a spectacular litany of medical problems from which Jackson apparently suffered for years before his untimely death on June 25 2009, on the eve of an ill-fated series of comeback shows in London.

Incontinence, insomnia and mental instability were just three revealed in painful detail at the trial, which heard how Jackson died from a cocktail of the sedatives lorazepam, midazolam and propofol, given to help him sleep.

A condom catheter, intravenous (IV) drug tube and oxygen nasal canulla were attached to Jackson's body when paramedics arrived, while pictures of his naked corpse on a hospital gurney had his family running from the courtroom.

Led by his mother Katherine and father Joe, the family has filed in every day since September 27, some members more often than others - to sit on the wooden benches reserved for them at the front of the court's public seating.

Fans

Occasionally, they would turn to exchange words with journalists sat behind them, while Jackson fans - winners of a daily ballot for tickets for the handful of spare seats in court - were consigned to the back row.

Genial Judge Michael Pastor has drawn praise, sharing jokes with the jurors and court staff - but he is not to be crossed: when a fan's phone went off near the trial's start, she was escorted smartly out, the device confiscated.

Early witnesses included a cocktail waitress and a quintessentially Hollywood actress, Murray's girlfriend - who couldn't contain her breathless excitement at having met Michael Jackson, even as she discussed his death.

A string of friendly character witnesses came on proclaiming how the "caring" Murray saved their lives and treated them for free - prompting the 58-year-old medic to dab his eyes at one stage.

But the last week descended into a dizzying blizzard of medical testimony, as key witnesses argued over exactly what Murray might have done, or not done, in the fateful hours before Jackson's death.