We will likely never know what happened during Michael Jackson’s final moments.
On the eve of what he hoped would be a triumphant return to the world stage that would re-establish him as the pre-eminent pop star of the modern era, Jackson died, seemingly alone, in a rented home in Los Angeles after a fitful night during which his private physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, supplied him with a series of medications aimed at helping the 50-year-old King of Pop get some much-needed rest.
After a nearly yearlong investigation, in February, Murray was charged with manslaughter in the case, in which prosecutors claim that the Dallas-based cardiologist supplied a deadly cocktail of sedatives — including the surgical anesthetic propofol — that stopped Jackson’s heart.
As the one-year anniversary of Jackson’s death on Friday approaches, we’re taking a look at the case against Murray and how the prosecution has progressed since last summer.
Murray was hired by This Is It concert promoter AEG Live to be Jackson’s personal physician at a cost of $150,000 a month during the lead-up to the singer’s London concerts. Before that fateful night, Murray told police that he had attempted to wean Jackson off propofol by giving him a combination of anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives.
And then the unthinkable happened.
In the days and hours after news first broke that Jackson was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital in critical condition — we later learned he was essentially dead before he was transported — the world waited to hear what caused the singer’s demise. When the frantic 911 call was released a day after his death, we learned that the caller said Jackson was not conscious and not breathing, even as police were seeking out Murray to question him in the case.
Due to the confusion surrounding the circumstances of his death, on June 26, the cause of death was deferred , and officials said autopsy results would take several weeks, even as police met with Murray to reconstruct Jackson’s final, fitful hours.
Two days later, Murray claimed that Jackson had a faint pulse when he found him, offering up the first timeline of what happened before the singer died. In one of the first in a series of serious questions raised about his son’s death, Jackson’s father, Joseph, went on record as saying he had “a lot of concerns” about Michael’s health , suggesting that something nefarious might have been afoot, a claim sister LaToya would reiterate a short time later .
As the investigation went on for several days, police removed more medical evidence from the rented estate, and we learned from a former nurse that Jackson — who had sought treatment for a prescription-drug dependency in 1993 — had requested propofol in the past to deal with his chronic insomnia.
By July 2, the Drug Enforcement Administration had joined the investigation as details about the singer’s alleged addiction to prescription medication began to emerge, including tales of aliases and alleged doctor shopping that led investigators to serve search warrants on five physicians in early July.
At that point, Murray’s lawyer was denying that his client, not a suspect in the case at the time, had administered any powerful painkillers such as Demerol or OxyContin to Jackson. In late July, federal authorities served a search warrant for Murray’s Houston offices , looking for medical records as part of a manslaughter investigation focusing on the cardiologist . They also visited his Las Vegas home and medical offices a week later in search of medical records and evidence that Jackson used aliases to obtain prescription meds from other doctors. A pharmacy in Las Vegas was also raided in August as part of the investigation in search of evidence that Murray may have purchased propofol there.
It was also reported around that time that Murray told investigators that he had provided propofol to Jackson and that the autopsy results would be placed on security hold while the police investigation continued.
On August 18, Murray released a video statement in which he thanked supporters for their prayers but did not address the investigation or Jackson’s death. “I have done all that I could,” he said. “I told the truth.” A week later, a police source said investigators had ruled Jackson’s death a homicide , and leaked court documents showed he had lethal levels of propofol in his system when he died.
In early January, after six months, the LAPD completed their death investigation , and Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter February 8, pleading not guilty to the charges. Over the following month, it would be alleged that Murray stopped CPR to hide evidence from investigators and that Jackson’s heart was still beating when he arrived at the emergency room .
Murray was able to keep his California medical license amid the harsh glare of the case, surviving another attempt to have it stripped June 14.
And, as the one-year anniversary of Jackson’s death loomed, in papers filed as a precursor to a possible civil suit against Murray by Joseph Jackson, it emerged that Murray, 57, had ordered a heart-resuscitation machine and requested that AEG Live provide a nurse with medical training for him as part of his care of the singer. Murray remains free on $75,000 bail, and his lawyer has maintained that the doctor did not administer anything to Jackson that “should have” killed him. The doctor continues to operate clinics and see patients in Texas and Nevada but has been ordered not to use anesthetics on those patients.
With the likelihood of a plea deal remote , Murray’s lawyers are expected to put up a vigorous defense, according to a recent CBS News report, especially since a felony conviction would disqualify the doctor from ever practicing medicine again.
A legal expert said the defense is likely to argue that while it is uncommon for a physician to prescribe or administer propofol outside of a hospital setting, it is not negligent, per se, to administer it in the small doses that Murray has admitted giving to Jackson. Murray’s ignorance of Jackson’s complicated medical and pharmaceutical history and allegations of “doctor shopping” will also likely play a part in the defense.
The prosecution went for the “low-hanging fruit” by charging Murray with involuntary manslaughter as opposed to second-degree murder. The assumption appears to be that it will be easier to prove that the doctor caused Jackson’s death not with malice or forethought, but through the negligent way he administered drugs to the singer and without regard to his patient’s long history with strong pharmaceuticals.
The preliminary hearing in the Jackson case is set for August 23. Murray faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
MTV will be remembering the life and music of Michael Jackson all weekend. Don’t miss the one-hour special “Michael Jackson’s Influence on Music,” airing Friday at 6:30 p.m. on MTV.