Michael Jackson's Physician Faces Court Hearing

The criminal case against Michael Jackson's doctor gets underway next week in Los Angeles. Prosecutors have charged Dr. Conrad Murray with involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson a sedative that allegedly led to his death. The district attorney is expected to introduce some new details about the pop star's final moments, and how Murray responded.

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The first stages of the criminal case against Michael Jackson's doctor get underway, next week, in Los Angeles. Prosecutors have charged Dr. Conrad Murray with involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson a sedative that allegedly led to his death. At a hearing next week, the D.A. is expected to introduce some new details about the pop star's final moments, and how Dr. Murray responded.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRISBY BATES: The voice over the phone on the 911 tapes was urgent but courteous, as the caller reported a medical emergency in a toney Los Angeles neighborhood.

Mr. ALBERTO ALVAREZ (Security Guard): Sir, we have a gentleman here that needs help and he's not breathing.

BATES: The gentleman was Michael Jackson and the voice on the line belonged to security man Alberto Alvarez. He listened to instruction from emergency dispatch while Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, could be heard in the background working on him.

911 Dispatcher: Did anybody witness what happened.

Mr. ALVAREZ: No. Just the doctor, sir. The doctor has been the only one here.

911 Dispatcher: Okay, so the doctor see what happened?

Mr. ALVAREZ: Doctor, did you see what happened, sir?

Dr. CONRAD MURRAY (Physician, Michael Jackson): Yeah. They need to come.

BATES: Now reports are circulating that Alvarez told police that Dr. Murray hid vials of medicine before calling for help. That included bottles of propofal, the surgical sedative linked to Jackson's death.

Those allegations could prove explosive, says Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Ms. LAURIE LEVENSON (Director, Center for Ethical Advocacy, Loyola Law School): If thats true, that is very significant evidence for the prosecution. Because in order to prove this case, that they have to prove that Dr. Murray acted negligently, that he should have known better. Well, if it turns out that he did know better, that here he's trying to hide the evidence in this case, that will really help the prosecutors at trial.

BATES: Celebrity defense attorney Mark Geragos disagrees. He handled part of Michael Jackson's child molestation trial in 2005, and says dropped tidbits like the one from Alvarez are strategic.

Mr. MARK GERAGOS (Defense Attorney): Well, I dont want to enflame my friends over at the LAPD, but they do have a long history of leaking information.

BATES: Geragos says police and prosecutors have had a clear advantage and Murray's lawyers have their work cut out for them.

Mr. GERAGOS: There was extensive investigation going into this case, before it was filed, and so the defense is having to play catch-up.

BATES: Even so, Laurie Levenson says Murray's prosecutors probably aren't counting on only one thing to win their case.

Ms. LEVENSON: They're going to take a collection of evidence and say, look at the big picture here. He shouldnt have been giving this medication, he tried to clean it up when he was done, no reasonable doctor would have done this. Michael Jackson dies, you know what that adds up to.

BATES: For the most part, Murray has kept a low-profile, but he was seen at Forest Lawn Memorial Park shortly after Jackson was entombed there, and just before Murray was arraigned for Jackson's death.

Ms. LISA BURKS (Blogger, "Adventures in Grave Hunting"): It was a photo setup. There were professional paparazzi with him.

BATES: Lisa Burks writes a blog on cemeteries, called "Adventures in Grave Hunting." Like many Jackson fans, she was furious.

Ms. BURKS: It hurt and outraged many people who loved Michael. It was just a slap in the face.

BATES: Adding to their anger, the ruling by Superior Court Judge, Keith Schwartz, allowing Murray to still practice medicine while his case is pending. But defense attorney Geragos points out, Murray didnt get a free pass.

Mr. GERAGOS: In this case, Judge Schwartz limited that order by saying that he could still practice but not anywhere related to anesthesia or the giving of drugs, and specifically named propofal.

BATES: Geragos and Laurie Levenson agree on one thing - Conrad Murray's trial will likely last for months, maybe a year. And Levenson believes the doctor has been irreparably damaged.

Ms. LEVENSON: Frankly, his medical career is over. He may very well end up going to prison and it will certainly mark him as someone who killed Michael Jackson.

BATES: Even if a jury decides otherwise.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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