Dr. Doom

09.29.11

The Conrad Murray Trial That Wasn’t

The trial over the death of pop star Michael Jackson is in full swing, but there’s another side to the story revealed here about the singer’s drug use and relationships. Amy Ephron on what we won’t be hearing at the trial.

As the much-touted Dr. Conrad Murray trial enters its third day, it is living up to its promise as the trial of the year. With the Jackson family arriving each day en masse to the courtroom, the director of This Is It testifying, and the jury treated to a few snippets of the film and testimony on MJ’s physical state the two days before his death, all eyes are on the courtroom. But what is missing is the testimony of several prominent witnesses who if allowed to speak might reveal new twists in the case. Two weeks ago the presiding Judge Michael Pastor disallowed the testimony of many of the defense’s key witnesses.

Ed Chernoff, lead defense attorney, responded by saying, “It essentially gutted our defense strategy.” (Although in the first two days of the trail they’ve managed to slip a little bit of it in.) But it hampered their ability to put forth into evidence as follows: the amount of stress (financial and otherwise) Jackson was under prior to the This Is It tour; Jackson's well-known long-term history of drug use and prior addictions to Demerol and Propofol; that favorite Hollywood pastime “doctor shopping”; and eyewitness testimony about Jackson’s physical and mental state in the months prior to his untimely death on June 25, 2009. It has impeded the defense’s ability to put forth their “pet“ theory—that may or may not yet be proven by science—that Jackson took the last dose himself.

Judge Pastor has decided “to limit as much as possible” the trial to evidence from only the 72 hours prior to Jackson’s death and only that which relates to Dr. Conrad Murray’s care (or negligence) in the treatment of his star patient, Michael Jackson.

Here’s an alternate selection of witnesses that had they been allowed might have revealed much about MJ’s last months—and their absence may tell us as much about the case and the mystery of Jackson’s death as those who will be testifying.

Dr. Arnold Klein:

In his heyday, Klein was dermatologist to the stars—for many years best friend of Jackson's, close to Elizabeth Taylor, claims to have started Amfar, rumored to be the father of Prince and Paris Jackson, two of MJ’s kids, who do bear a resemblance to him.

In a highly unusual and unorthodox protocol—in fact, a number of medical professionals consulted with for this piece had never heard of such a thing before—Klein administered 100mg to 200mg of the highly addictive painkiller Demerol to Jackson when he was getting injections of the cosmetic fillers Botox and Restylane, according to medical records.

Setting aside that Botox and Restylane are supposed to last for at least two months and no one this writer or any dermatologist consulted knows has ever received anything but “numbing cream” (or in one instance a half a Vicodin) for the same treatment, according to medical documents Arnie Klein gave Restylane and Botox to Jackson almost every other day accompanied by a total of 2,475 mg of Demerol in April 2009 and in a two-week period in May, more than 1,400 mg of Demerol. This has led some medical professionals familiar with the records to wonder if some of the Botox and Restylane injections listed on the medical billings were simply “cover.”

Klein’s regular injections of Demerol to Jackson date back to at least December of 2008, and there’s no question, according to the addiction specialists consulted for this article, that Jackson had developed a dependency on Demerol.

When asked by this reporter about his unusual practice of administering Demerol for Botox treatment, Klein responded, “You have to understand, Michael Jackson was incredibly needle phobic. I had to sedate him.”

There was also a curious off-label use of Botox (in an unusually high dosage) in May and June of 2009, right before Jackson’s death: Botox injections to prevent his sweating on stage from his underarms (an approved use), his scalp, and groin (not approved). (Well, okay, Demerol is useful for that last one at least ...)

One is reminded of Irina Medavoy’s high-profile lawsuit brought against Klein in 2004 for health issues she says were caused by his treatment of her migraines with Botox which at the time had no off-label usages approved by the FDA. Medavoy lost. Klein was represented by super-lawyer Howard Weitzman, who now represents the MJ estate and executors in all litigation matters. (Klein and Weitzman no longer speak.)

Side note: despite his significant real estate holdings, a Frank Gehry–designed beach house in Laguna, Calif., a Palm Springs retreat, and a historical house in Hancock Park (none of which are overmortgaged, according to the public record on his bankruptcy case, and an art collection valued at millions of dollars, Klein, in January of 2011, filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy (which the bankruptcy judge has said he might consider throwing out or converting to a Chapter 7), which knowledgeable sources have suggested may have been prompted by Klein’s concern that he would be added as a defendant in one or both of the wrongful-death suits that have been brought by the Jackson family.

There is also no mention in Klein’s personal MJ medical records about any concern about “Demerol addiction” or a possible referral to a pain management specialist, which medical experts consulted for this article found unusual.

In happier times, Klein loaned his friend Michael Jackson a green Versace jacket, which Jackson wears in one of the scenes in This Is It. After Jackson’s death, Klein sued the estate to get the green jacket back. He lost. In some sort of L.A.-metaphor way about sadness and loss, every time I talk to Klein, he can’t help but say two or three times during the conversation, “I really want my green jacket back.”

(When speaking to this reporter he almost had me with that “green jacket” thing. But then Klein signed papers recently with Bonhams and Butterfield to auction off his “personal memorabilia” and his art collection on Dec. 3, 2011, so maybe he just wanted the jacket returned to sell.)

What Arnold Klein would have testified to:

Absolutely nothing. He would’ve probably been instructed to take the Fifth. 

John Branca:

Rock-star attorney to the music world, Branca represented The Doors, The Beach Boys, Don Henley, and for much of his career, Michael Jackson. It was Branca who negotiated the acquisition of the much valued Apple/Sony catalog that Jackson may or may not have been being asked the morning of his death to put up as collateral against his insurance policy if he were to miss any dates on the ill-fated upcoming This Is It tour. (Talk about something you could lose sleep over.) Jackson rehired Branca eight days before his death, and Branca now serves as one of the executors of the Jackson estate.

What John Branca would have testified to:

Very little. He would likely have claimed attorney/client privilege to almost every question he was asked.

Jason Pfeiffer

A former assistant to Dr. Arnold Klein who in an interview with Extra claimed that he had been MJ’s “boyfriend,” a claim that Klein first supported and then recanted to TMZ. True or false?

In early 2009 in downtown Los Angeles when the economy was shaky and vacancy rates were high, a somewhat fancy building was renting apartments to anyone who walked in the door if they simply had the ability to pay “first” and “last.” A slightly overweight man in his mid-30s rented a unit.

The building management was somewhat surprised when a white Rolls (estimated sticker price $400,000) was regularly parked in his parking space. The building was located a short distance from The Forum and the Staples Center where MJ was rehearsing in May and June of 2009 for his upcoming tour. The tenant was Jason Pfeiffer. And while he doesn’t own a white Rolls, Arnie Klein does. What the defense might have asked if they’d known this story (and Judge Pastor had allowed Pfeiffer to testify) is whether Pfeiffer ever witnessed Jackson receive any drugs “outside of a clinical setting.”

In Klein’s bankruptcy filings he has accused Pfeiffer and Klein’s then–business manager Mohammed Kiljhi of embezzling millions of dollars from him.

Pfeiffer has responded with an emotional distress, libel, defamation, and workman’s-comp suit claiming that he was wrongfully terminated, that Klein wrongfully used his name to procure prescriptions, that Klein regularly required him to go online and procure sex partners for Klein and to wash his groin, and a lot of other sordid things that Judge Pastor preferred not to have aired in his courtroom. That litigation is still pending.

What Jason Pfeiffer would have testified to:

God only knows.

Tohme Tohme Ramses:

Tohme Tohme—MJ’s manager for most of the year leading up to the This Is It tour. People like to say his office is the back booth at the Bel Air Hotel. Of Lebanese descent, it has been reported that he claimed on his company’s website to be an ambassador-at-large from the country of Senegal, but the Senegalese embassy disclaimed any knowledge of him. Tohme Tohme has often been described by the press as a mysterious fellow.

But is he? Really?

In reality, Tohme owned a company called TRW Advertising. Jim Weller, (the W of TRW), creative director and one of the partners, according to the website, has won more than 2,000 awards including Ten Best in America by Adweek, created the “Where’s the Beef” slogan, and the TRW website states he was a former adviser to a president of the United States. The other partner, Sig Rogich, is a businessman from Iceland who was briefly the U.S. ambassador to Iceland.

Is Tohme Tohme really that mysterious or just a businessman who likes his privacy?

It was Tohme who introduced Jackson to Tom Barrack of Colony Capital and set into play the complicated negotiations that would then become the AEG-Live deal for the This Is It tour, which were intended to put back on his feet.

There is no question that Tohme Tohme adored Jackson.

Jackson fired him two months before the This Is It tour and brought back in longtime manager Frank DiLeo (who sadly passed away on August 2, 2011).

Shortly before Jackson’s death, I was told by someone familiar with the events, DiLeo asked Tohme to come back in and help, which would explain another thing that never made any sense at all.

On June 25, 2009, after Jackson was declared dead at UCLA Medical Center, according to multiple witness testimony in the preliminary hearing, Tohme returned to the Carolwood residence, took charge, fired the entire security staff, and replaced them on the spot.

What Tohme Tohme might have testified to is how much financial pressure  Jackson was really under at the time of his death, and whether Tohme had ever had an experience with MJ when he seemed impaired in any way.

When asked by this reporter about his unusual practice of administering Demerol for Botox treatment, Klein responded, “You have to understand, Michael Jackson was incredibly needle phobic. I had to sedate him.”

Michael’s sister LaToya has claimed on numerous occasions that Tohme removed $5 million from the Carolwood residence (Michael always liked to keep a lot of cash on hand). And according to probate court records, Tohme did return $5.2 million to the estate (albeit a year after Michael’s death) that he claimed Michael had given him so that Tohme could purchase a “dream” house for MJ, a “retreat” of a sort, in Las Vegas.

As it happens, LaToya also went to the Carolwood house after Michael died and spent the night there. (Talk about a contaminated crime scene—although in fairness to the LAPD, they didn’t actually realize it was a “potential” crime scene until a number of days after Michael’s death.) Several people have asked me to ask LaToya about the Post-its. Don’t ask me what the Post-its are though; all I know is they disappeared, too.

Tohme Tohme likes to say that Michael Jackson wasn’t paying him anything.  That’s true. But he did have a piece of the This Is It tour. And rumor has it, he’s about to sue. (Stay tuned ...)

What Tohme Tohme Ramses would have testified to:

The extraordinary talent of MJ.

Ellen Brunn

Dr. Klein’s nurse, whose initials (EB) appear on most of the Klein/MJ medical records relating to the Botox, Restylane, and intramuscular Demerol injections which, are time coded and meticulously marked. Brunn could presumably speak to the regularity with which Jackson visited Klein’s office and whether there were ever any house calls made. And whether it was common practice in their office to administer Demerol for Restylane and Botox.

What Ellen Brunn would have testified to:

She would have told the truth.

On the other hand, I learned that all of Dr. Klein’s employees were required to sign confidentiality agreements, and Judge Pastor would have to make a ruling about whether she would be allowed to testify to the treatment of any of his other patients, none of whom are involved in this criminal proceeding.

Dr. Steve Hoefflin

The defense might have had an easier time finding him if they’d ever gotten his name right.

Dr. Steven Hoefflin:

Longtime physician of Jackson’s. Performed the initial skin grafts to Jackson’s scalp after the terrible on-set accident when MJ’s hair caught fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial in 1984. Hoefflin is also responsible for many of the numerous nose jobs and cosmetic surgery (including the cleft in his chin) that MJ had in the ensuing years. In his prime, a celeb cosmetic surgeon whose patients also included Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

In fairness, whatever anesthetic and painkillers were provided to MJ for the surgical procedures, skin grafts, and subsequent recovery time were certainly warranted. And there has been a great deal written about long-term drug use and pain management for burn victims. I’m not saying it’s a factor, but it is a fact.

Hoefflin was accused in 1997 of conduct unbecoming to a doctor by two former associates, for allegedly stripping and ridiculing a few of his patients while they were under anesthesia for all of the office to see. The California Medical Board investigated and cleared him of any wrongdoing. Hoefflin subsequently sued his accusers for $20 million for defamation. He settled for an undisclosed amount. In a scene reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind, Hoefflin was arrested in 2008 by the LAPD in Hancock Park when they found him naked in a tree, waving a BB gun, and ranting about conspiracy theories. He was admitted to a mental-health facility for evaluation.

In 2009, after Jackson’s death, Hoefflin gave an interview to the British tabloid The Sun, blaming Dr. Klein for MJ’s addiction to Propofol and Demerol.

Klein responded by suing Hoefflin. That litigation is still pending.

What Dr. Hoefflin would have testified to:

It’s not clear he would have made an appearance as according to his website: “Dr. Hoefflin is currently implementing his Child Poverty Program in Acapulco, Mexico.”

Tim Lopez:

The owner of Applied Pharmacy Services in Las Vegas who, according to testimony and records presented in the preliminary hearing, shipped vast quantities of Propofol from his pharmacy to Dr. Conrad Murray, care of the Santa Monica, Calif., apartment of Dr. Murray’s live-in girlfriend, Nicole Alvarez (now the mother of Murray’s 2-year-old son), who worked briefly at the Spearmint Rhino (Gentleman’s Club) in Las Vegas. Nicole Alvarez will testify, as she was one of the many people Murray called when he left Michael Jackson alone in his bedroom the fateful morning of his death, and additionally, she signed for many of the FedEx packages that arrived for Murray from Applied Pharmacy Services. But the jury will not hear testimony about how Murray met Alvarez.

Applied Pharmacy Services was raided by the DEA in conjunction with the LAPD and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and has since filed for bankruptcy and shuttered its storefront. It is named as a codefendant in one of the Jackson family’s wrongful death suits pending in civil court.

Tim Lopez moved to Thailand before Murray’s trial started. However, in an eleventh-hour negotiation, the district attorney struck a deal with him (the details of which they are refusing to reveal) to return to testify as a prosecution witness in the Murray manslaughter trial for the death of Michael Jackson.

And as we head into day three of the Murray trial, the defense (and prosecution) are probably wishing they had the opportunity to throw a little more “smoke in the air.”