Now that the Los Angeles Coroner's Office has ruled Michael Jackson's death a homicide, the spotlight on the singer's physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, will burn even brighter. Murray has cooperated with police during their investigation into Jackson's death, detailing what medication he had administered to the superstar prior to his passing. But will the homicide ruling lead to criminal charges against Murray?
According to legal expert Peter T. Haven, that might be difficult to determine.
"You have to show that there's proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he was grossly, criminally negligent, which is more than regular negligence," Haven explained to MTV News. "You would have to show he did what he did with a strong sense that this was likely to put Jackson at risk."
Murray, for his part, disclosed to police the number of drugs Jackson was taking leading up to his death, including propofol. The drug, also known as Diprivan, is normally used to put patients under for surgery, but Jackson was using it as a sleep aid.
There's been criticism lobbied toward Murray for administering lethal amounts of the drug to Jackson, which was a leading factor in his death. But medical expert Dr. Steven Garner, who works at the New York Methodist Hospital, said Murray's action should cause more alarm in this case than Jackson's actual drug intake.
"A lethal dose [of propofol] for one person may not be a lethal dose for another," Garner told MTV News. "Which is why using a drug like propofol, you have to use it carefully, make the right dosage for the right person. We don't have many cases where people have chronically been given this drug to put people to sleep. There's no prescribed dosage, because people don't use it for anything but surgery, where there's extensive monitoring. This guy was injecting [Jackson] and leaving the room, not monitoring him and not having the proper equipment. It's really like a case of murder."
The word "homicide," however, can define a number of different deaths and doesn't always indicate a criminal act. A few cases of homicide, for example, are justifiable (self-defense), vehicular (car crashes), excusable (professional liability) and negligence.
There's still a number of factors to investigate to determine if Murray could possibly be charged, Haven said. But if the doctor acted in good faith and his patient still died, he has a legal defense of professional liability. A lawyer for Murray spoke with The Associated Press on Friday afternoon (August 28) and lashed out against authorities in Los Angeles for announcing the homicide ruling but not releasing the full findings of the autopsy report.
Haven suggested there might be additional information the coroner has knowledge of that may never make it to the report. He said that information may not matter much, though. Unless Murray is proved to have had full knowledge that the dosage he gave Jackson would be fatal but continued anyway, a criminal charge will be hard to pursue. It's worth noting that a medical malpractice charge may be pursued, however, if it's determined Murray acted below the standard care expected of a physician. Haven said Murray's care might have been below standard but not with any premeditated intent to cause harm.
"It's like drag racing down a crowded road," Haven remarked. "It's grossly, criminally negligent. You don't intend to kill anyone, but you're putting people at risk."