LOS ANGELES — The coroner who performed the autopsy on Michael Jackson testified Tuesday that the pop star’s death would have been classified a homicide even if the singer gave himself the final dose of the anesthetic propofol.
Christopher Rogers, chief of forensic medicine for the Los Angeles County coroner, was questioned by a lawyer for Dr. Conrad Murray, who is charged with causing Jackson’s death by administering a lethal dose of propofol and other sedatives and failing to provide proper care.
Attorney J. Michael Flanagan suggested Jackson could have swallowed the drug, which is meant to be administered intravenously. While Rogers said that seemed unlikely, he said it would not have made a difference in his finding of homicide because of inadequate care by Murray.
Flanagan’s inquiry was the first disclosure of how the defense plans to counter the involuntary manslaughter charge against Murray. The lawyer has suggested Jackson could have injected himself intravenously while Murray was out of the room.
The testimony came during an ongoing preliminary hearing after which Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor will decide if there is enough evidence for Murray to stand trial.
Murray has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have said he didn’t give Jackson anything that should have killed him.
In court, Flanagan displayed a chart showing the drug levels in Jackson’s blood at the time of the autopsy.
Flanagan asked Rogers, “If the ingestion (of propofol) is by the decedent (and) led to these blood levels, it would not be a homicide?”
“I believe it would still be a homicide,” Rogers replied.
Asked why, the witness said, “Based on the quality of the medical care, I would still call this a homicide even if the doctor didn’t administer the propofol to Mr. Jackson,” the witness said.
Rogers said propofol should not have been present in the bedroom because it is meant only for hospital settings and, “If there was propofol there, the doctor should have been prepared for the effects.”
Rogers said Jackson had a strong heart and was mostly healthy.
“The care was substandard,” Rogers said. “There were several actions that should have been taken.”
Rogers also testified that Murray was improperly using the powerful anesthetic propofol to treat the musician for insomnia, and that Murray was wrong to leave Jackson’s side while he was under anesthesia before he died.
On Tuesday, a detective testified that Murray spent nearly three hours telling police about his final hours with the superstar, who was so desperate for sleep that he was getting the anesthetic injections in his bedroom six nights a week.
Murray’s interview two days after Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, led police back to the singer’s mansion, where they found 12 vials of propofol – a fraction of the 255 vials a Las Vegas pharmacist said he shipped to Murray in the three months before Jackson died.
Detective Orlando Martinez said Murray told police he did everything he could on the morning of June 25 to get the pop superstar to sleep.
He gave the singer sedatives then turned down the music in his bedroom and told Jackson to meditate. He even rubbed the singer’s feet and put lotion on his back. But Jackson was still awake.
Murray told police the singer was growing frustrated and repeatedly warned he might have to cancel the planned 50 comeback concerts in London because he couldn’t sleep. He wanted his “milk,” which the detective was the word Jackson used for propofol.
At 10:40 a.m., Murray told Martinez, he gave Jackson a 25 milligram dose of propofol – half the usual amount.
Murray said he watched the singer for a few minutes then made a long walk to a bathroom. When he returned, Jackson wasn’t breathing. Murray told the detective.
The stunned doctor immediately tried to save Jackson, but told Martinez he didn’t call 911. “He said he was caring for his patient and he did not want to neglect him,” Martinez testified.
A call to 911 was finally made at 12:21 p.m. Prosecutors have said Jackson was dead before help was summoned.
Murray could face up to four years in prison if tried and convicted.