LOS ANGELES – After Michael Jackson’s private doctor was sentenced to four years in jail Tuesday, the county district attorney stepped forward to discuss the significance of Conrad Murray‘s punishment for involuntary manslaughter.
- Conrad Murray listens Tuesday as Judge Michael Pastor sentences him to the maximum four years in county jail for his involuntary manslaughter conviction in the death of pop star Michael Jackson.
Conrad Murray listens Tuesday as Judge Michael Pastor sentences him to the maximum four years in county jail for his involuntary manslaughter conviction in the death of pop star Michael Jackson.
Steve Cooley said the case provided a lesson for the public that “the number one cause of unnatural death in the United States this year was prescription drug overdoses, surpassing traffic accidents.” A key factor, he said, is “people like Conrad Murray, the so-called Dr. Feelgood doctors who, because of their greed and selfishness, abandon ethics and put people in harm’s way.”
Murray, a 58-year-old cardiologist, got the maximum sentence for causing the singer’s drug-overdose death through criminal negligence. He was convicted Nov. 7 after a six-week jury trial.
Sheriff’s officials said Murray will serve a little less than two years.
In sentencing Murray, Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor called him “a disgrace to the medical profession” who engaged in a “continuous pattern of deceit” and showed no remorse.
Pastor focused on a cellphone recording Murray made of a drugged Jackson six weeks before his death, slurring his speech as he talked of plans for a London concert series. Pastor suggested that if he and Jackson had a future falling-out, Murray might have given it to a “media organization.”
Pastor emphasized Murray’s statements in a British TV documentary that he didn’t feel guilty because he did “nothing wrong” and that he felt betrayed by Jackson. “Yikes! Talk about blaming the victim,” Pastor said.
Rather than remorse, Murray expressed “umbrage and outrage,” he said. “Dr. Murray is offended by that patient dying.” Murray repeatedly blamed Jackson and others for the death, the judge said. “To hear Dr. Murray tell it, he was just a bystander.”
Jackson died June 25, 2009, of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol. Prosecutor David Walgren argued that Murray violated medical standards in administering propofol as a sleep aid without proper monitoring and resuscitation equipment. Asking Pastor for the maximum sentence, Walgren cited Murray’s 20-minute delay in calling 911 after Jackson stopped breathing and said Murray lied to paramedics, emergency-room doctors and police detectives about what drugs he had given Jackson.
“It should be made very clear that experimental medicine is not going to be tolerated, and Mr. Jackson was an experiment,” Pastor said. “The fact that he participated in it does not excuse or lessen the blame of Dr. Murray, who simply could have walked away and said no, as countless others had done. He engaged in this money-for-medicine madness that is simply not going to be tolerated by me.”
Prosecutors asked Pastor to order Murray to pay $101.8 million in restitution to Jackson’s estate and his three children, representing $100 million in projected earnings from the London concerts and $1.8 million in funeral and memorial service expenses. Pastor set a hearing for Jan. 23.
Under a recent change in state law, Murray will serve his time in a Los Angeles County jail rather than a state penitentiary. Cooley said his office will ask Pastor to reconsider because prisoners are being released early to relieve crowding. He said Sheriff Lee Baca has been releasing prisoners well short of their sentencing terms. Murray will be housed in a one-man cell and kept away from other prisoners.
Pastor allowed Murray 46 days credit against the four-year sentence for time already served in jail. After the verdict was announced.
Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, his sisters La Toya and Rebbie Jackson and his brothers Jermaine and Randy Jackson attended the hearing. Before Pastor pronounced sentence, Brian Panish, a lawyer for the Jackson family, read a statement on their behalf.
“We still look at each other in disbelief,” the statement said. “Is it really possible that he is gone?” For the parents, the death of a child “is simply against the natural order of things,” Panish read. The children, sons Prince and Blanket and daughter Paris, said in the statement: “We will grow up without a father, our best friend, our playmate and our dad.”
The statement said Jackson’s “passion was for unifying the world through the gift of his artistry.” The family did not “seek revenge,” the statement said, but wanted a sentence telling physicians “they they cannot sell their services to the highest bidder and cast aside the Hippocratic oath.”
Murray was to be paid $150,000 a month under a contract that was never signed by all parties. He never got paid.
Pastor said he based his sentence not just on the events of the day Jackson died but on the “totality of circumstances,” including two months of propofol treatment before Jackson died and Murray’s coverup attempts after the death. Pastor said he considered “the longstanding failure of character of Dr. Murray to serve his patient.”
“There are those who feel that Dr. Murray is a saint,” Pastor said. “There are those who feel that Dr. Murray is the devil. He’s neither. He’s a human being. He stands convicted of the death of another human being.” Pastor said this was not “a medical malpractice case” but “a criminal negligence homicide” case.
“Dr. Murray created a set of circumstances and became involved in a cycle of horrible medicine … which violated his sworn obligation, for money, fame, prestige,” Pastor said. Murray is “so reckless” and “dangerous” that allowing him to practice medicine again would threaten society, Pastor said.
Murray spoke at the hearing only to say “yes” in response to questions about understanding his right to appeal. He asked a question about appeal procedure. As sheriff’s deputies escorted him out of court, he blew a kiss toward his mother, Milta Rush, and other family members and supporters. He mouthed “I love you” to his mother and girlfriend Nicole Alvarez, mother of their 2½-year-old son.
Jackson family members mouthed a silent “thank you” to Walgren as they left the room, the prosecutor said.
At a prosecution news conference, Walgren said of the sentence, “We’re pleased. It’s what we thought was appropriate.” Pastor’s reasoning was “very powerful and persuasive,” he said.
California, Nevada and Texas medical authorities have said they will investigate whether Murray’s licenses to practice should be revoked. His California license has been suspended.
Cooley said his office will send certified copies of Murray’s conviction to the state bodies investigating Murray, and to any state or country where he may seek a new license. “If they want our cooperation, we will happily provide it,” he said.
Arguing for the four-year term, Walgren noted that Katherine Jackson said in a pre-sentencing probation report that Murray had lied to police and said he comforted her at the hospital after her son died. Jackson’s mother said Murray never spoke with her at all that day.
Murray “abandoned” Jackson by “talking to his girlfriends” on his cellphones instead of watching his sedated patient, Walgren said.
Defense lawyer Ed Chernoff spoke for probation after submitting a 45-page sentencing memorandum and 35 letters of praise for Murray from family members, friends and former patients. He asked Pastor to consider “the entirety of a man’s book of life, as opposed to just one chapter.”
Pastor said he had considered all factors but said his “violations overcome other aspects of Dr. Murray’s treatment of other patients and good deeds he may have done.”