After 23 days of arguments and counter arguments, the prosecution and defence in the trial of Dr. Conrad Munray for the death of Michael Jackson had their closing remarks.
It’s now left for the jurors and the judge to determine whether or not he was guilty of involuntary manslaughter and not worthy of his practice licence. He also risks jail term.
On Tuesday, Dr. Munray told a judge he would not testify.
Minutes later, the defence rested its case and the prosecution, after presenting brief rebuttal testimony, closed its presentation of evidence in the six-week trial.
Dr. Murray’s announcement came while jurors were out of the room and he was not asked to repeat it for them.
Spectators, including Jackson’s mother, father, brother Randy and sister Latoya, seemed to hold their breath before Murray answered one of the biggest questions of his trial, saying he would stay away from the witness stand.
The doctor held his hands together over his mouth in a prayerful pose before Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor asked the cardiologist whether he intended to take the stand.
The judge lectured Murray as he had before on how the decision to testify was his alone and that he also had the right to remain silent.
“Have you made up your mind?” Pastor asked.
Murray paused, looked at all his lawyers, seemed to sigh and said “my decision is I will not testify in this matter.”
The judge asked lead attorney Ed Chernoff if he had conferred with Murray about his rights and Chernoff said yes.
“The court finds the defendant has knowingly, freely and explicitly waived his right to testify,” the judge said. “I certainly will respect that decision.”
Murray had left open the possibility of testifying on Monday, when he told the judge that he had not made a decision.
The judge had warned him that testifying brought with it the prospect of a tough cross-examination by the prosecution. That may have swayed him with the fact that the jury already had a chance to hear him tell his story on a recording of a police interview.
When jurors returned to the courtroom, Chernoff announced that the defence had no further witnesses after calling 16 people to testify. A total of 49 witnesses testified for both sides in 22 days of trial.
Prosecutors contend Murray gave Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in the bedroom of the singer’s mansion. Defence attorneys claim Jackson self-administered the dose when Murray left the room.
The last witness was propofol expert Dr. Steven Shafer, who was re-called by prosecutors as a rebuttal witness to address a few points raised by his former colleague, Dr. Paul White.
In the final moments of testimony by White, he was asked by defence attorney J. Michael Flanagan to differentiate between the “standard of care” and the “standard of practice” by physicians. Prosecution expert witnesses have said Murray’s treatment of Jackson was an extreme deviation from the accepted standard of care.
“The standard of care is the ideal,” White said. “It is what we would look for every patient.”
But he suggested there are unique situations in which the standard must be adjusted to circumstances and may not reach the highest level.
White testified for the defence that Jackson caused his own death. But White also said he would not have followed the same procedures that Murray did.
Addressing the standard of care issue, Shafer said in special cases, such as that of Jackson where a patient is treated in a remote location, the precautions should be above the standard of care, not below.
Noting that Jackson was given the drug propofol in his bedroom, he said “if there was such a thing as bedroom-based anesthesia, the standard guidelines would be a minimum. There’s no tolerance for error because you have no backup.”
Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009. He could face up to four years behind bars and the loss of his medical licence, if convicted
The closing arguments revolved around California Penal Code 192 (b).
It defines involuntary manslaughter as “an unlawful killing that takes place during the commission of a lawful act which involves a high risk of death or great bodily harm that is committed without due caution or circumspection.”
According to the California-based Shouse law group, a company specialising in criminal defence cases, “the phrase ‘without due caution and circumspection’ is basically synonymous with California’s legal definition of ‘criminal negligence.’”
The company’s definition reads: “Criminal negligence means that the death was not the result of inattention, mistaken judgment or misadventure. But rather it was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of… aggravated, reckless or negligent conduct.”
According to LA criminal defence attorney Dana Cole, there are two scenarios under which the jury could possibly convict Murray, and both depend on the jury agreeing that a doctor in his position could “reasonably foresee a high risk of death.”
The first is that the panel believes, beyond reasonable doubt, that Murray physically administered the final fatal dose of propofol to Jackson.
Criminal defence attorney Dana Cole said: “Remember it is not beyond all doubt, or beyond any doubt, it is beyond reasonable doubt.”
He explained that the prosecution will hope witness testimony that Murray failed to tell paramedics and doctors he had given Jackson propofol, and that there was an empty 100ml bottle of the drug in an IV bag in the singer’s room, will push the decision in their favour.
Cole said: “The idea was to show to the jury that he has not told the truth to the doctors and so on, and there was this empty bottle… so why should they believe that he only gave 25mg of propofol?”
The prosecution will also hope that their star medical doctor, Dr Steven Shafer, will have influenced the jury.
Dr Shafer told the court the idea Jackson self-administered propofol was a “crazy scenario”, and the only plausible explanation for the levels of propofol in Jackson’s body was that his doctor had set up an IV drip of the drug and allowed it to flow into his body without supervising him.
In response, the defence team could argue strongly that the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Murray administered a final fatal dose of propofol.
The defence’s star witness, Dr Paul White, has said he believes it is much more likely Jackson died after injecting himself too quickly with a syringe of propofol.
The second scenario is if the jury decides that even though it is not convinced Murray administered the propofol himself, merely putting Jackson in a room with access to the drug and leaving him unsupervised constitutes an act which any doctor in the same situation could reasonably foresee would constitute a high risk of death.
In response to this, the defence may argue Jackson was a grown man with responsibility for his own actions, and Murray could not have reasonably foreseen that his patient was going to self-administer the propofol and risk his own death.
Cole explained the defence team may say their client is guilty of providing care that was “improper… even negligent, but not grossly or criminally negligent”.
That difference, Cole explained, is the hair the defence team will hope to split to get Dr. Murray acquitted.