Michael Jackson's Death, Potential Criminal Liability
Author: John T. Floyd
Doctors Move to Hire Criminal Defense Attorney Vital in Protecting His Reputation and Liberty in the Jackson Whirlwind
By: Houston Criminal Defense Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
The death of celebrity brings out the worst in humanity. The recent death of singer/entertainer Michael Jackson has once again proven this tragic point. We have seen it all before: the lurid headlines, anonymous sources, and grist mill of rumors all designed to insinuate wrongdoing by any and every one associated with the celebrity-figure from nanny to granny. To paraphrase American author Ann Morrow Lindberg, we make our heroes in America only to destroy them.
Michael Jackson was a phenomenal individual. His creative genius transcended even greatness. It was that creative genius that allowed him to survive child sexual molestation scandals, a seemingly endless array of medical problems, and nagging reports of a litany of drug addictions. The public will never know the whole truth about the private life of Michael Jackson. The purveyors of smut and misinformation will see to that. Mark Twain once said that a lie will travel around the world before the truth can put on its socks.
Dr. Conrad Murray, a cardiologist with practiced in Houston and Las Vegas, discovered the singer's near lifeless body in the bedroom of the Los Angeles mansion where Jackson was living. The doctor performed CPR in an effort to revive Jackson and was present when Jackson was pronounced dead in the emergency room of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The doctor is discovering quickly that the media does not always get it right the first time.
Almost immediately media reports began to circulate linking Dr. Murray to injections of the narcotic drug Demerol (and now Morphine, Vicodin, Diprivan and who knows what else), prior to Jackson's death. The reports were fueled by misinformation that Dr. Murray had mysteriously disappeared after reporting Jackson's death; that he had refused to meet with Jackson family members; that he refused to sign a death certificate; and was even evading the police who wanted to discuss with him the timeline of events leading up to the singer's death.
The direct and indirect implication of these sensational media reports was that Dr. Murray was somehow responsible for Jackson's untimely death. We don't know what happened in that Los Angeles mansion the day Jackson died or the events leading up the singer's death. The Los Angeles police department is still investigating that matter, sifting through the stories trying to determine fact from rumor, in an effort to determine what, if any, criminal wrongdoing may have been associated with the death of the man who gave the world "Thriller."
As criminal defense attorneys, we are committed to facts—not speculation, suspicion or innuendo. The news media should be committed to the same principle, but the mainstream media outlets have been so concerned about being left behind the eight ball in the Jackson case that they have resorted to tabloid-style journalism in their coverage of the singer's death. Many media outlets have reported rumor as fact resulting in death threats to Dr. Murray. We find this entire turn of events to be rather sordid and unseemly.
In the meantime, Dr. Murray did the only rational, responsible thing he could do. He hired a Houston criminal defense lawyer, Ed Chernoff, to protect not only his professional integrity but to guide him through the horrific legal maze now confronting him. Dr. Murray is now speaking through his legal representative to clear up many of the media-generated misrepresentations concerning his involvement in Jackson's death.
Dr. Murray's counsel has empathically informed the media, just as Dr. Murray told the LAPD, that he has never prescribed Demerol or any other addictive pain-killing medication to Jackson. The doctor's counsel further said Dr. Murray happened to pass Jackson's bedroom on the afternoon the singer died and noticed he was experiencing difficulty breathing. The doctor, according to counsel, immediately began administering CPR after finding a faint pulse in Jackson's femoral artery.
Since the doctor did not know the physical address of the mansion where Jackson was living, he was forced to seek and locate staff members who knew the mansion's physical address and who could make the 911 emergency call. Dr. Murray stayed with Jackson as he was transported in an ambulance to the UCLA medical center and remained in the emergency room as the medical staff unsuccessfully tried to revive the singer.
When asked to sign a death certificate, Dr. Murray refused, saying he believed an autopsy should be performed to determine the exact cause of death. That was a responsible decision because the singer had not exhibited any signs of a serious medical problem in the days leading up to his death—a period during which he had engaged in intense rehearsals for an upcoming 50-city concert tour.
Further, according to his lawyer, after Jackson had been officially pronounced dead, Dr. Murray met with members of the Jackson family to inform them about what had transpired leading up to the singer's death and to offer his personal condolences to them.
As evidenced by the criminal indictments returned in connection with the 1977 death of Elvis Presley and the 2007 death of Anna Nicole Smith, it is understandable that there would be speculation about Dr. Murray's relationship with Michael Jackson, particularly since the doctor only met the singer several months ago.
In the wake of Elvis Presley's death, the flamboyant singer's personal physician Dr. George Nichopoolas was indicted on 14 counts of over-prescribing drugs to Presley and fellow rockabilly crooner Jerry Lee Lewis. The indictment charged that Nichopoolas had prescribed 10,000 serious addictive drugs to Presley alone. The doctor, however, was acquitted of all charges, although his medical license was ultimately permanently revoked by a Tennessee medical board.
In the Anna Nicole Smith case, two of Smith's personal physicians (Sandeep Kapoor and Kristine Eroshevich) and her attorney/boy friend Howard Stern were indicted for allegedly providing the buxom blonde actress with a steady diet of pills and opiates. In a press conference after the announcement of the indictments, California's 70-year-old Attorney General and possible 2010 gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown told attending reporters in March 2009:
"There is a general tolerance and indulgence of drugs. Everyone knows a doctor, many people take sleeping pills and then they take another pill, we have drug advertising. The American people are being propagandized to be more tolerance of drugs … I personally think this is damn serious and I hope these courts take it more seriously than they have in the past and this is only one in a series of efforts to crack down on doctors. We've already gone after a hundred other doctors and we'll be stepping up the prosecution in the months ahead."
That is precisely why Dr. Murray quickly secured legal representation. Politicians seeking higher office are worse than tabloid journalists running amuck. There is nothing sacred—certainly not the truth, honesty, or integrity.
Attorney General Brown is actually a Johnny-come-lately in the crackdown on "pain doctors." The doctor almost universally recognized as the original "pain doctor" is a Virginia physician named William Hurwitz. He believed in prescribing whatever amount of narcotics was necessary to effectively manage pain. Dr. Hurwitz quickly found himself at odds with the Virginia Board of Medicine and in 2003 the board found "fault" with some of his prescription practices but ruled the doctor had engaged in them "in good faith."
The federal government was not so kind and understanding. Federal prosecutors targeted Hurwitz for drug distribution prosecution. In 2004 the doctor was convicted of more than 50 counts, sentenced to four 25-year terms, and forty-six 15-year terms—all of which were to be served concurrently. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, in August 2006 reversed his conviction and ordered that the doctor be retried.
The Government was not deterred by this appeal setback. In March 2007 the government initiated its second prosecution of Hurwitz. This time a jury convicted him of 16 counts of drug trafficking in connection with prescribing pain medication to his patients but acquitted him on another 17 counts of drug trafficking. The trial judge dismissed the remaining 12 counts, and in July 2007 the judge sentenced the doctor to four years and nine months in a federal prison. He remains in federal custody.
The indictments in the Presley/Smith cases, and the multiple convictions of Dr. Hurwitz, virtually guarantees that there will be criminal indictments flowing from the death of Michael Jackson. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office and police investigators have removed a significant amount of physical evidence, reportedly several large bags of drugs and possible syringes from the LA mansion where Jackson was living. The LAPD is contacting every pharmacist in the county about prescriptions that may have been intended for the singer (whether in his name or in a fictitious name as is common in prescription fraud cases). Michael Jackson was sued by one pharmacy that claimed the singer owed them over $100,000 for a two year balance on prescriptions they alone had filled for him. Will they be the target of a criminal investigation? Doctors, pharmacists, friends, family, and the usual entourage of hangers-on should all follow the lead of Dr. Murray and seek the advice, guidance, a nd protection of experienced legal counsel. Anyone that may have prescribed or administered to Michael Jackson a pill or a shot stands a good chance of being swept up in the whirlwind of prosecution that is sure to follow. Top tier legal representation is a must for anyone that is questioned by investigators in this matter.
As is usually the situation in high-profile cases in Los Angeles, legal experts are already lining up to question the integrity of the investigation being conducted by the LAPD. The experts point to the fact that a moving van of some sort was seen pulling up to the Jackson mansion and hauling away undisclosed items shortly after his death. The legal experts have noted that criminal defense attorneys will have a field day asserting that the "investigation" was either compromised or impeded by the post-Jackson- death removal of items from the mansion.
In the end, we feel fairly confident in saying Michael Jackson's death will most likely be resolved in a courtroom by attorneys representing the State of California, the Jackson family, and the individuals who may be indicted in connection with the singer's death. It will play, and end, like most opera tragedies.
By: Houston Criminal Defense Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
About the author: John T. Floyd is one of Houston's top criminal defense lawyers with an unblemished reputation for providing faithful and dedicated representation to his clients. He has committed his entire professional career, as a criminal defense attorney, to providing the best possible criminal defense representation to clients not only in Houston but throughout the State of Texas and in federal courts nationwide.
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