Michael Jackson doctor faces death charge in court

Mon Jan 3, 2011 2:18pm EST
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Prosecutors this week begin offering evidence that Michael Jackson's doctor is responsible for the pop star's death in a case that could hinge on who gave the singer a fatal dose of a powerful drug he used for sleep.

Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson's physician in 2009, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death, and a Los Angeles judge on Tuesday starts the preliminary hearing -- largely seen by legal experts as a formality -- to determine if enough evidence exists to bring the physician to a full trial.

Jackson, one of the best-selling recording artists of all time who generated hits like "Thriller" and "Billie Jean," died of a prescription drug overdose on June 25, 2009, at age 50, after suffering cardiac arrest while in bed at his rented mansion.

Murray has admitted injecting Jackson with the powerful anesthetic propofol, which has been determined to be a key factor in his death. The drug is used mostly in hospital settings, but it was given to Jackson at home as a sleep aid.

Prosecutors hope to paint the doctor, who was hired by a concert promoter to care for Jackson before a series of performances, as a man who was in financial trouble and would irresponsibly give the singer drugs to keep his paycheck.

Murray has pleaded not guilty, and last week defense attorneys indicated they may focus on a mysterious syringe found near Jackson to explore whether someone other than Murray injected the singer with the fatal dose of propofol.

Some experts are skeptical about that possible defense, which is based on the assumption that Jackson, an admitted drug abuser, could have administered the propofol to himself.

"It plays to what people perceive Jackson was about and that he might have done it, but it's hard to see how it occurs without Murray having some role in it," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School.   Continued...