Testing urged for evidence in Michael Jackson’s death
Arguing that evidence is deteriorating, defense lawyers for the doctor charged in Michael Jackson’s death are seeking urgent testing of two syringes and an IV bag found in the singer’s mansion after his death.
Attorneys for Dr. Conrad Murray said during a 40-minute closed session with a judge that liquids in one of the syringes had already dried up and was now “salt,” according to a transcript of the proceeding obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
Quantities of substances in the syringes and IV bag could be crucial to explaining how the singer died, the lawyers said at the Tuesday hearing.
Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Authorities contend he administered a lethal dose of sedatives, including the anesthetic propofol, to Jackson in the bedroom of his rented mansion in June 2009.
Officials tested what was in the items and found traces of propofol and lidocaine, according to the transcript. But the amounts of the substances were not determined, and defense attorneys contend that may be significant in the case expected to hinge on technical and scientific data.
Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor declined to order testing on the substances Tuesday because he wanted defense attorneys to confer further with prosecutors.
The judge might order the testing late next week if the two sides can agree on how it will be conducted.
“I want to act as quickly as we can,” Pastor told the attorneys.
Still, defense attorney Ed Chernoff struck an urgent tone, telling the judge, “We are doing it because the house is on fire. We need a hose.”
Chernoff said substances in one broken syringe found at the mansion had dried up since June 2009, when Pastor ordered the evidence preserved. The tests sought by Murray’s attorneys will destroy the samples and can only be performed once.
Prosecutor David Walgren questioned why defense attorneys had not raised the issue sooner.
“There are very technical, complex issues,” he told the judge, adding he thought an agreement on the testing could eventually be reached.
Defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan told the judge his efforts to get the substances tested has been delayed because an expert in the Los Angeles County coroner’s office had been on a lengthy vacation. He argued the tests should have been done after Jackson’s death.
“It hasn’t been done yet,” Flanagan said. “It should have been done a year ago.”
Tissue samples in Jackson’s body were tested for levels of various substances and led to the coroner’s determination that the pop singer died in part from acute propofol intoxication.
The anesthetic is supposed to be administered in hospital settings, but Murray told investigators he had been providing it to Jackson as a sleep aide and had been trying to wean him off the drug.
Chernoff has said the doctor did not give Jackson anything that should have killed him.
The tests are likely to be conducted by the coroner’s office. A phone message left for coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter was not immediately returned.
Flanagan said the agency told him the makeup of the liquids in the syringes and IV bag were not tested because the values were not necessary to establish the cause of Jackson’s death.
Flanagan said in the closed session that the results of the tests “would be very helpful information perhaps for both sides.”
Chernoff told the judge results of the testing, which could take a month or more to complete, would not be used during a preliminary hearing scheduled to begin Jan. 4.
Prosecutors will lay out some of their evidence during the hearing, and Pastor will then decide whether there is enough evidence to order Murray to stand trial.
Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman said it was too early to know how the issue might impact Murray’s case, but it probably gives his defense team an issue to try to create doubt in jurors’ minds.
“It depends on the jury,” he said. “You’ve suddenly gleaned a point that cannot be underestimated.”
He said there didn’t immediately appear to be any indication of impropriety with the evidence or testing.
But a jury possibly leaning toward acquitting Murray might be swayed by a defense argument that the evidence was either damaged or unavailable.
“It’s gives them some arguments they didn’t have before,” Goldman said, adding he made similar arguments when he was a public defender. “Sometimes that’s all you need.”