LOS ANGELES — A judge has dealt the doctor charged in Michael Jackson’s death two setbacks, bringing him a step closer to a trial that could end with him being sent to prison and also taking away his livelihood.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor on Tuesday told Dr. Conrad Murray that after listening to six days of testimony at a preliminary hearing, he thought there was enough evidence to support a possible finding of guilt at trial for the cardiologist to be convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
The ruling sets the stage for a high-profile trial that will examine all aspects of the pop star’s death and try to finally place responsibility for his demise at the age of 50.
Moments after he delivered the ruling, Pastor also suspended Murray’s license to practice medicine in California, a move that the physician’s attorney warned could prompt two other state where he has clinics to do the same.
Murray has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s June 2009 death, with prosecutors accusing him of providing the singer with a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives. The doctor has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court on January 25 for another arraignment.
Pastor made minimal comments on his ruling that there was enough evidence for Murray, 57, to stand trial. But the judge was clear that he thought Jackson’s former personal physician may pose an “imminent danger” if allowed to keep his medical license.
Murray’s attorney, Ed Chernoff, called the suspension the “nuclear option,” noting that Murray hadn’t practiced medicine in California since Jackson’s death.
“If you do that, he’s dead in the water,” Chernoff said. “He has no practice anymore. His patients have no doctor.”
A prosecutor portrayed Murray in closing statements Tuesday as a doctor who showed poor medical judgment and who had cost the Jackson family dearly.
“Because of Dr. Murray’s actions, Michael is gone,” Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said. “Because of Dr. Murray’s actions, Michael’s children are left without a father.”
On the final day of the preliminary hearing, another of Murray’s attorneys grilled experts on the possibility that Jackson somehow gave himself a fatal dose of propofol.
A coroner’s official and a prosecution expert said that while it’s possible Jackson swallowed propofol when his doctor stepped out of his bedroom, it was unlikely. Both said if that’s what happened, it doesn’t change Murray’s culpability.
Dr. Richard Ruffalo, an anesthesiologist who testified as an expert witness, said Murray expressed concern about Jackson being addicted to the anesthetic in an interview with police two days after the singer’s death. The cardiologist told police he left Jackson alone to use the restroom, and when he returned the pop star wasn’t breathing.
“It’s the same as having a heroin addict and leaving the syringe next to him and walking away,” said Dr. Richard Ruffalo, an anesthesiologist who testified as an expert witness.
He said Murray lacked the proper medical equipment to properly monitor Jackson, who was receiving propofol to help him sleep six nights a week for at least two months before he died.
Ruffalo also didn’t properly attempt to revive Jackson, calling his attempts to perform CPR on the singer’s bed “useless.” The technique must be performed on a hard surface.
Compounded with Murray’s delay in calling 911, which prosecutors said could have been as much as 21 minutes, the doctor’s treatment of Jackson represented an extreme deviation from the standard of care, Ruffalo said.
Walgren made the point in his closing arguments, during which he placed the blame for Jackson’s death squarely on the doctor.
“Michael is not here today because of an utterly inept, incompetent and reckless Dr. Conrad Murray,” Walgren said.