- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Dr. Conrad Murray’s defense on Wednesday abandoned a theory that it touted for over a year that Michael Jackson swallowed the drug that killed him, an abrupt shift in strategy that potentially undermines its case.

The reason was clear: The defense had learned that its claim that the singer swallowed the anesthetic propofol while Murray was out of the room in June 2009 can’t be supported with scientific evidence.

The developments, along with a medical expert’s repudiation of Murray’s medical skills, suggested that the defense must recoup significant lost ground in its bid to acquit him of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death.

Murray has pleaded not guilty. It was not clear whether the defense would still argue that Jackson gave himself a dose of the drug some other way, such as injecting it into an IV tube that was sending the drug into him.


“This is potentially devastating for the defense,” said Manny Medrano, a former federal prosecutor who now practices criminal defense. Since the defense proposed in opening statements that Jackson may have self-administered propofol, he said, “that will become the elephant in the room for jurors.”

Medrano said the 11th-hour switch shows “a lack of preparation and failure to really think the defense theory through.”

Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor and prosecutor David Walgren appeared stunned when attorney Michael Flanagan arose in a hearing outside the jury’s presence and announced the defense’s decision.

“We are not going to assert at any point in this trial that Michael Jackson at any time orally ingested propofol,” said Flanagan, who revealed he had commissioned his own study about oral ingestion of the drug. He said the study concluded that it would not be absorbed into the body when ingested.

The defense first offered the theory that Jackson swallowed the fatal dose at last year’s preliminary hearing. Both in and out of court, attorneys suggested that the singer may have poured some into fruit juice and drank it. Experts have testified this week that the theory was unreasonable.

Jurors have seen charts which note that a small amount of propofol was found in Jackson’s stomach, but Flanagan told the judge on Wednesday the method of oral ingestion was not specifically mentioned in openings.

Flanagan’s recent questions to witnesses indicated that he might now say that Jackson swallowed pills on his bedside table, specifically the sedative lorazepam. If they do focus on the sedative, they would be challenging the coroner’s ruling that propofol killed the singer.

Moments after Flanagan’s announcement, the jury was reconvened and a prosecution expert took the stand, saying that Murray was guilty of extreme deviation from the standard of medical care practiced by physicians.

Murray was “responsible” for Jackson’s death, said Dr. Alon Steinberg, a cardiologist from Ventura, Calif., who evaluated Murray’s actions for the California Medical Board.

“If all of these deviations didn’t happen, Michael Jackson might have been alive,” he said.

Jurors listened and took notes as he enumerated six “extreme deviations” by Murray, including using propofol, a powerful anesthetic normally given through an IV in hospital settings, to treat insomnia.

Story Continues →