Michael Jackson Manslaughter Preliminary Hearing: 30 Witnesses Line Up Against Dr. Murray

The Michael Jackson Manslaughter trial is one I intend to follow closely on this blog. I will also see if I can obtain the audio clip from my radio appearance on New York’s 99.5FM WBAI and 107.5FM WBLS on this case. What’s the latest scoop? TMZ reports a preliminary hearing is underway and the prosecutor has 30witnesses lined up to testify against Dr. Conrad Murray in the Michael Jackson manslaughter case.

Who are the witnesses? They include medical experts, 3 LAPD investigators, among others.

Let’s back up a bit for those of you who do not know what a legal preliminary hearing is all about. Let me set up the bare bone facts and then get into the criminal procedure.

1. There is a death at a home in Los Angeles. The deceased is pop star Michael Jackson.
2. The police and other investigators report to the scene.
3. The police later discover Michael Jackson was last seen with Dr. Murray, his treating physician.
4. Dr. Murray, they discover, administered an alleged lethal dose of  a drug called Propofol to Jackson the night before his death.
5. There is also evidence that numerous doctors have been over-medicating Jackson for a while now. This is significant as it goes to the heart of whether Propofol, standing alone, caused Jackson’s death.
6. The police obtain warrant(s). They search everywhere and confiscate all kinds of documents and items from Dr. Murray.
7. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s  office  looking at the evidence from the police, concludes they have something. They charge Dr. Murray with a novel theory. What is it? They claim Dr. Murray committed a homicide (manslaughter) in the treating of a patient.

From a policy and pragmatic standpoint, this is FASCINATING!

If this case successfully goes forward, it could have HUGE implications and impact on the medical community. Say a  doctor treats your loved ones and God forbid, they die. You have a civil remedy (medical malpractice lawsuit), if you believe the doctor screwed up. In addition, the victim & the people of the State of California now have a criminal remedy, if Dr. Murray’s case goes forward and the prosecutor prevails.

What does that mean for the way doctors will do business post Dr. Murray? What impact on healthcare? Scientific research and experiments? Surgical procedures? Does the assumption of risks boilerplate template we sign before medical procedures become irrelevant? If a patient dies and some medical colleagues conclude that no “reasonable doctor” aka “reasonable person” would have done what s/he did, will the prosecutor then file criminal charges for criminal negligence i.e. involuntary manslaughter. How many deaths from surgery gone wrong have we heard about. Scary if you are a medical provider.  . .

Anyway, onto the criminal procedure  (i.e. the rules and ways criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors navigate the court system).

The first step in the trial process for the prosecutor  is the filing of either a grand jury indictment in trial court or filing of a complaint (charging document) in front of a magistrate (Judge). This area is governed by California Constitutional Code Article I, section 14.

Once the complaint has been filed, the next step is a preliminary hearing. This is the stage State v. Conrad Murray is currently at.

Think of the preliminary hearing as an examination i.e. a way for the Judge to be sure that the prosecutor has enough evidence to have Dr. Murray tried in court for Manslaughter.

Clearly, the prosecutor believes they do. To show that they have sufficient evidence, they are presenting 30witnesses which includes 3 LAPD detectives and a variety of medical experts to show that there is probable cause to believe Dr. Murray committed the crime of manslaughter. How hard is that at a preliminary hearing? Easy for the prosecutor, unless this case takes a whole different spin.

Nevertheless, before his preliminary hearing most criminal defense attorneys, myself included, would tell you, we would be all over that Propofol. The same actually goes for the prosecutor. Any and all things regarding Propofol, we all would want to know about. The defense would and should get the substance tested in its own independent laboratory. Evaluating the amount found in Jackson’s body is also essential and whether it was enough to cause his death. Painstakingly combing through each and every detail becomes the job of the defense, among other tasks, prior to the preliminary hearing and trial.

What next? If the magistrate buys it, then the case moves forward to trial court. If s/he doesn’t, s/he can dismiss the case (very rare this happens).

Very interesting days ahead.


Photocredit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes