In addition to laying out story lines the prosecution and defense teams will follow, the trial quickly provided a shocking opening chapter when prosecutor David Walgren kicked off the proceedings by showing a previously unseen, graphic image of the 50-year-old pop icon’s body on a hospital gurney following his death .
According to TMZ, Walgren meticulously set out the people’s case against Murray, a cardiologist who was hired by Jackson to be his personal physician in the lead-up to the “Thriller” singer’s planned 50-show This Is It comeback attempt.
Walgren told the just-seated jury that Jackson put “misplaced trust” in Murray’s medical skills and that the prosecution planned to show that Murray repeatedly acted with gross negligence and incompetence. He pinned the cause of death as an overdose of the powerful surgical anesthetic propofol, which he claimed was administered by Murray, who had made arrangements with a pharmacy to purchase very large quantities of the drug that chronic insomniac Jackson allegedly used to get to sleep.
In addition, Walgren said more than a month before Jackson’s death, the doctor made a voice recording on his iPhone in which Jackson, heavily slurring his words, is clearly under the influence of “unknown agents,” which he said proved Murray knew the star’s state and what the drugs were doing to his client.
Jackson was described as cold, shivering and rambling in the weeks before his death, but Walgren said the doctor continued to give him propofol and, when Jackson was clearly struggling in his final moments, he said Murray instructed a bodyguard to hide evidence in a blue bag, including bottles of propofol. He also noted that Murray never told paramedics or doctors at UCLA hospital that he’d given Jackson propofol.
Murray, who was working on a $150,000 a month retainer, faces four years in prison and the loss of his medical license if found guilty.
Defense attorney Ed Chernoff countered by telling the jury that Jackson caused his own death by swallowing eight 2mg pills of the anti-anxiety drug Lorazepam, as well as injecting himself with a dose of propofol that instantly killed him. He said Jackson’s struggles with prescription-drug abuse were so acute that no amount of determination or talent — and not even the biggest tour payday of his life — could help him mount the This Is It tour without some help.
“He died rapidly, so instantly he didn’t even have time to close his eyes,” Chernoff said of Jackson’s quick demise from the alleged combination of tranquilizers and propofol taken without Murray’s knowledge.
Chernoff also claimed that Jackson went “doctor shopping,” promised to put some of Murray’s former patients on the stand to show his skills and compassion as a physician (which caused Murray to tear up at one point) and said his client was not aware of how acute Jackson’s issues were when he took the gig. In fact, Chernoff said, Jackson didn’t have insomnia, but suffered from an “absolute, total and thorough inability to sleep.”
After hiring him, Jackson allegedly told Murray he would use propofol with or without him, and in the two months that he administered the drug to the singer, Chernoff said Murray observed Jackson sleeping, waking up and living his life, which suggested to the cardiologist that it was not negligent to administer the drug to his patient.
The defense attorney also claimed Murray was trying to wean Jackson off the dangerous drug, a tactic that seemed to be working in the nights before June 25. But after an emergency meeting June 20, during which the show’s promoter threatened to pull the plug on the tour if Jackson did not get his health in order, Jackson begged Murray to continue giving him the anesthetic so he could get much-needed sleep.
As he has claimed all along, Chernoff said Murray gave Jackson a small dose of propofol just before the pop star died, but not enough to kill him, suggesting that Jackson — who knew exactly how to administer the drug — shot himself up with the fatal dose. Murray pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Testimony in the proceedings — which are being televised and webcast — was expected to begin later in the day with Jackson’s choreographer and friend, Kenny Ortega. Among those attending the first day of the trial were Jackson’s father and mother, Joseph and Katherine Jackson, as well as siblings Janet, Jermaine, Randy, Tito and LaToya.