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Lawyers clash over Jackson death, as trial opens

29 september 2011, 12:56
0
A Japanese visitor mimicks the wax figure of late US pop star Michael Jackson at the Madame Tussauds museum in Tokyo. ©AFP
A Japanese visitor mimicks the wax figure of late US pop star Michael Jackson at the Madame Tussauds museum in Tokyo. ©AFP
Michael Jackson's doctor killed the star through gross negligence, prosecutors said -- but the medic's lawyer claimed the pop icon caused his own death, in a day of chilling evidence from beyond the grave, AFP reports.

At the start of Conrad Murray's long-awaited manslaughter trial Tuesday, his lawyer said Jackson died "instantly" after taking two different drugs while the doctor was out of the room at the star's Holmby Hills mansion on June 25, 2009.

In haunting scenes, a photo of Jackson's dead body draped in white on a hospital gurney was shown in court, which also heard an audio recording of the star apparently heavily drugged, less than two months before his death.

But the court also saw a video of Jackson rehearsing "The Way You Make Me Feel" days before his death, and heard that he had plans for a world tour, and to make a feature film version of his famous "Thriller" video.

"He did an act without his doctor's knowledge, without his doctor's permission, against his orders, he did an act that caused his own death," Murray's lawyer Ed Chernoff argued.

Chernoff said Jackson took eight two-miligram lorazepam pills -- enough to put six people to sleep -- without his doctor's knowledge, and then gave himself an extra dose of the powerful sedative propofol, to help him sleep.

The combination of drugs "killed him instantly... He died so rapidly, so instantly, he didn't even have time to close his eyes," he said.

Murray, 58, faces up to four years in jail if convicted by a jury of seven men and five women of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Jackson, as the star was preparing for a series of comeback concerts.

Specifically the physician is alleged to have given Jackson an overdose of propofol -- which Jackson himself referred to as "milk" -- to help alleviate his insomnia.

Murray, trained as a cardiologist, has never denied giving Jackson propofol, which typically is used as an anesthetic during surgery, but he denies having "abandoned his patient" at a critical, and ultimately fatal, moment.

The doctor wiped tears from his eyes at one point during Tuesday's testimony.

But the prosecution claims the doctor has Jackson's life on his conscience.

In his opening statement, deputy district attorney David Walgren said: "The evidence... will show that Michael Jackson literally put his life in the hands of Conrad Murray.

"That misplaced trust... cost Michael Jackson his life," he added, claiming Murray was motivated more by his $150,000 a month contract with Jackson than by his duty of care to the singer.

The doctor made a series of phone calls -- and even emailed an insurance agent dismissing media reports that Jackson was too sick to play the London concerts -- while Jackson lay dying, he said.

Walgren also played a recording of an apparently heavily drugged Jackson talking in a slurred voice to Murray, a month and a half before his death -- suggesting this showed the doctor was well aware of how ill Jackson was.

But Chernoff claimed that Murray only gave Jackson propofol after the star begged for it.

"If I don't sleep, if I don't get some sleep, I can't complete my rehearsal. If I can't complete my rehearsal, I can't complete my show -- and I will fail," he was quoted as saying.

Jackson's mother Katherine and father Joe were in court, along with his siblings Jermaine, Janet, LaToya, Randy, Tito and Rebbie.

At least 300 fans and others gathered outside the court, some chanting "murderer" at Murray, At one point before the trial started a woman tried to attack the doctor, but was stopped by security guards, reports said.

The first witness called was Kenny Ortega, the director of Jackson's "This Is It" shows -- who revealed that Jackson was planning to take the show around the world, and then to make films.

"He invited me to join him as a co-director to do (a) full-length feature film of 'Thriller' video," as well as one based on his "Smooth Criminal" single, from the 1987 album "Bad."

Of their last meeting, on the evening of June 24, 2009, Ortega said: "Michael was very happy... I told him that I loved him, he told me that he loved me more."

Jackson gave him a hug and they parted, he said.

The panel to decide Murray's fate includes six white jurors, five Hispanics and one African American. They include high school graduates, some jurors with a college education, and one with a master's in business degree.


By Michael Thurston

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