Friday 25 May 2018

Conrad Murray: cardiologist whose incompetence turned him into Michael Jackson killer

Nick Allen

WHEN Dr Conrad Murray first treated Michael Jackson's daughter Paris for flu in Las Vegas in 2006 the singer was impressed by his kindly nature and easy bedside manner.

The softly spoken cardiologist had been recommended by one of Jackson's bodyguards and the two men immediately hit it off. Three years later, as the "King of Pop" prepared for the "This Is It" tour, a mammoth comeback series of concerts staged in a desperate attempt to turn around his stricken finances, he made a decision that would cost his life.

In offering Murray $150,000 a month to be his personal physician, Jackson thought he was getting the best medical care money could buy. The reality was that he had hired a man whose incompetence turned him into a killer.

The starstruck and greedy doctor, who had initially asked for a salary of $5 million a year, allowed himself to be manipulated by a famous patient who needed urgent treatment for an addiction to painkillers and chronic insomnia.

Some of those around Jackson were concerned he was in no fit state, physically or mentally, to take on the punishing demands of a concert tour. But Murray, who was himself facing hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid bills relating to his medical practice, rode roughshod over ethics and attempted to prop Jackson up with yet more pills.

The end result of his work was apparent to all when, during the dramatic opening scenes of The People vs Conrad Robert Murray, prosecutors displayed a shocking photograph of Jackson's lifeless body across a 10ft wide screen.

It was a macabre moment that brought the singer's sister Janet Jackson to tears and proved to be the beginning of a histrionic performance by the prosecutor, deputy district attorney David Walgren.

Next to come in the cramped courtoom on the ninth floor of a concrete tower bock in downtown Los Angeles was a haunting tape of the late singer slurring his words, apparently semi-comatose under the influence of drugs.

The jury, half of whom admitted to being Jackson fans, listened to Jackson's almost unrecognisable voice, describing how he wanted his 50-date tour at the O2 Arena in London to be bigger than anything Elvis Presley or The Beatles had done.

Rambling almost incoherently, he said it would give him money to build a hospital for sick children. At the time of his death Jackson was up to $400 million in debt.

"God wants me to do it. I'm gonna do it, Conrad. It’s time to be phenomenal," he said.

The moment was recorded by Murray on his mobile phone on May 10, 2009 and showed that he knew for weeks the vulnerable state Jackson was in.

A further showstopping piece of courtroom theatre followed when Mr Walgren produced an IV bag and a bottle of propofol, the drug that ultimately killed Jackson, to show how it had been administered.

For the Jackson family the trial was increasingly painful as it shone a harsh light on the entertainer's extensive use of prescription drugs.

He had been dogged by controversy for years, including a 2005 child molestation case in which he was cleared, and the trial revealed how he had slipped into a twilight world surrounded by malleable doctors, oxygen tanks and vials of drugs.

Richard Senneff , the paramedic who rushed to Jackson's home when he died, did not even recognise the star and said he looked like a "hospice patient." He was wearing a surgical cap and a device for collecting his urine, and was so thin his ribs were visible. Medicine bottles littered the bedside table next to an IV stand.

The details of Jackson's drug use, and the substances provided by Murray, played out on televisions across the United States during live "gavel to gavel" coverage of the trial. On the advice of his lawyers Murray did not give evidence and maintained an icy mask for most of the proceedings. On the few occasions when he broke down and cried a camera was on hand to broadcast a close up.

Members of the Jackson family, including the singer's 80-year-old mother Katherine, sat on plastic seats only a few yards away. Janet Jackson was closest to the jury, the physical resemblance to her brother a constant reminder of the victim in the case.

Her sister La Toya used Twitter to convey her thoughts from the court, claiming darkly that Murray was the "fall guy" in a "conspiracy to murder and steal" conducted by people she didn't name.

At one point she said: “I feel like screaming! Murray knows exactly what happened and who else is behind all of this. It sickens me to see what they did to my brother."

The jury soon became familiar with a bewildering array of substances. Chief among those were propofol, an anaesthetic intended only for use in hospitals, and a sleeping tablet called lorazepam. Other drugs found in Jackson's system included Midazolam, Diazepam and Lidocaine. The jury also heard of his previous addiction to the painkiller Demerol.

When he started work for the singer Murray had ordered an extraordinary 255 vials of propofol, about four gallons worth, from a pharmacist to be delivered to his "clinic" in Los Angeles.

The "clinic" turned out to be a modest $2,500 flat he shared with his actress girlfriend Nicole Alvarez, 29, and their two-year-old son.

For two months he drove daily to Jackson's rented mansion nearby and spent the night adminstering drugs for up to 10 hours to get his patient to sleep.

Jackson had been rehearsing at the Staples Centre in downtown Los Angeles and video of his final sessions was shown to the jury. Some witnesses described him as "strong and energetic."

But the tour's co-director Kenny Ortega, said: "My friend wasn't right. There was something going on that was deeply troubling me."

Nearly a week before Jackson died Mr Ortega emailed the tour promoters AEG asking for him to be "psychologically evaluated," but added that it would "shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug. He's terribly frightened it's all going to go away."

He confronted Murray but the doctor grew angry with him. Mr Ortega said: "He said I should stop trying to be an amateur doctor and psychologist and leave Michael's health to him."

On June 24, 2009, Jackson returned from his last rehearsal and swallowed eight tablets of lorazepam, which would have been enough to put six normal people to sleep.

It didn't work and Murray, by his own admission, gave him a small 25mg dose of propofol. The following morning, while his patient lay dying, he left the room and made a string of phone calls.

He spent 46 minutes talking to his office in Las Vegas and at one point called an exotic dancer he had met in the city.

At about 11.56am on June 25, 2009, while he was on the phone with cocktail waitress Sade Anding, the doctor apparently noticed Jackson wasn't breathing.

Miss Anding heard mumbling and then the phone went dead. But Murray did not instruct Jackson's bodyguard Alberto Alvarez, who had rushed into the room, to call emergency services until 12.20pm.

Instead, sweating and in a panic, his eyes bulging, he first asked Mr Alvarez whether he knew CPR. Murray himself attempted to perform chest compressions wrongly with one hand.

He also asked Mr Alvarez to hide an IV bag along with a handful of vials, inside another bag.

Jackson's daughter Paris and son Prince came into the room and saw their father lying dead or dying. Paris screamed "Daddy" and then curled up on the floor crying.

The paramedics were only one-and-a-half miles away when the call was eventually placed, and took only four minutes to get there.

When they did Murray failed to tell them he had given Jackson propofol. Nor did he tell an emergency room doctor at UCLA Medical Centre, where Jackson was taken by ambulance.

At the hospital he repeatedly asked members of Jackson's staff to drive him back to the house but they refused. The prosecution said he was intending to hide more evidence.

The role of propofol only emerged in a voluntary two hour police interview Murray gave two days after Jackson's death. He said the singer had asked for his "milk" and explained to detectives that he meant propofol.

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