And it’s all stripped down and streamlined and there are no more witnesses, no fancy power points, hand-drawn exhibits, forensic timelines, scientific evidence, no objections, no more motions to be heard. The jury, after just two days, delivered a unanimous verdict of guilty in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson.
The jury box is empty and the courtroom is packed with press, fans, spectators, family, friends of family (the infamous Kathy Hilton), and a lot of “suits” (numerous attorneys representing various continuing interests). But the mood is somber, still. The three members of the defense team arrive separately and barely speak. Murray, who has been remanded to custody, is escorted in by sheriffs, and with the possibility of parole briefly on the table, he also is wearing a suit.
And the cold, bare facts are all that are left in the courtroom.
As one well-known Century City attorney said to me when the trial was starting, “It’s a tough case.”
Murray ran what Judge Michael Pastor deemed a calculated and well-planned “scientific experiment” on Michael Jackson: ordering propofol months in advance; lying to the pharmacy he ordered it from, and stating it was being sent to his clinic in Los Angeles when in fact it was being shipped to his girlfriend’s apartment; admittedly administering propofol to Jackson for 60 nights in a row without proper resuscitation or monitoring equipment; abandoning his patient after he’d administered propofol and deciding that it was really important, among other things, that he phone a girlfriend in Texas; and then, on finding Jackson in “distress” neglecting to call 911 immediately and instead instructing the security team to “clean up” what would later be labeled the “crime scene;” lying to the emergency responders about the drugs he’d administered to Jackson; lying to the staff at UCLA about the drugs he’d administered to Jackson, neglecting to inform them that he’d administered propofol.
Even after he’d been found guilty, Murray participated in some peculiar behavior (which is difficult to fathom since he was actually behind bars). He had participated in a mockumentary (it’s hard to write that word without comment) that was filmed during the trial, him speaking with his lawyers, etc., and an incredibly strange PR call: he went to Forest Lawn on the anniversary of the pop superstar’s death and was filmed at the graveside? It aired on MSNBC after the verdict was announced, along with an equally curious television interview on the Today Show where Murray expressed no remorse, stating he didn’t feel guilty because he didn’t think it had been his fault. And since part of what was in question was Murray’s judgment, it all seemed like a questionable call.
But what seemed to upset Pastor the most was that Murray had taped Jackson without his knowledge in an “inebriated” state. In my brief encounter with Pastor, I can attest to the fact that he is a huge advocate of privacy rights. But Pastor stated in open court that he couldn’t fathom a reason why Murray had done such a thing and went so far as to suggest that there was no reason to do it, that it must have been an insurance policy of a kind, that Murray would/could have if he were to be terminated, threatened to blackmail Jackson with the tape.
I can think of another reason. He might have taped it so that he could play it to his patient in a moment of sobriety or play it to people in his patient’s life—business people, management, production execs—a wake-up call, so to speak. Having said that, I agree with Pastor that it was curious that Murray kept the recording on his phone and that it is inappropriate and illegal and, also, a violation of the patient/doctor relationship (or anyone’s relationship for that matter) to tape someone without their knowledge. That is against the law in California.
Any of these things alone would be a bad fact, and when added up together in the stark, grim reality of a sentencing hearing, caused Pastor unflinchingly to sentence Murray to the maximum penalty allowed: four years, and to cite for him an as yet unspecified amount of restitution.
At the press conference after the sentencing, lead prosecutor David Walgren was shy, humble, surprisingly unassuming and exhibited a sense of humor that no one had ever seen before. When asked how he felt about the fact that he was applauded by the fans and spectators (almost like he was walking down a red carpet) whenever he exited the courtroom to the hallway, he answered, “Well, it was surprising. I didn’t expect it. I guess it’s better than the alternative.” The press corps (most of whom, including this reporter, were weirdly sitting on the floor, almost as if it were the last day of school) laughed. But when Walgren was asked if it was the toughest case he’d ever had, he answered quickly, without missing a beat, almost without any thought, “Nope.”
I guess it depends which side you were on.