LOS ANGELES — The doctor convicted in the overdose death of Michael Jackson was sentenced to the maximum four years behind bars Tuesday by a judge who denounced him as a reckless physician whose actions were a “disgrace to the medical profession.”
Dr. Conrad Murray sat stoically with his hands crossed as Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor repeatedly chastised him for what he called a “horrific violation of trust” while caring for Jackson.
However, Pastor conceded his sentence was constrained by a recent change in California law that requires Murray to serve his sentence in county jail rather than state prison.
Sheriff’s officials later said Murray will serve a little less than two years behind bars while housed in a one-man cell and kept away from other prisoners.
“This is going to be a real test of our criminal justice system to see if it’s meaningful at all,” District Attorney Steve Cooley said.
Cooley said he was considering asking the judge to modify the sentence to classify the crime as a serious felony warranting incarceration in state prison.
The judge was relentless in his bashing of the 58-year-old Murray, saying he lied repeatedly and had not shown remorse for his actions in the treatment of Jackson. Pastor also said Murray’s heavy use of the powerful anesthetic propofol to help Jackson battle insomnia violated his sworn obligation.
“It should be made very clear that experimental medicine is not going to be tolerated, and Mr. Jackson was an experiment,” Pastor said. “Dr. Murray was intrigued by the prospect and he engaged in this money for medicine madness that is simply not going to be tolerated by me.”
Pastor also said Murray has “absolutely no sense of fault, and is and remains dangerous” to the community.
The judge said.one of the most disturbing aspects of Murray’s case was a slurred recording of Jackson recovered from the doctor’s cell phone.
“That tape recording was Dr. Murray’s insurance policy,” Pastor said. “It was designed to record his patient surreptitiously at that patient’s most vulnerable point.”
Defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan contended that nothing said during the hearing would have changed the judge’s mind about the sentence.
Michael Jackson’s family told Pastor in a statement read earlier that they were not seeking revenge but wanted Murray to receive a stiff sentence that served as a warning to opportunistic doctors.
It included elements from Jackson’s parents, siblings and his three children.
“As his brothers and sisters, we will never be able to hold, laugh or perform again with our brother Michael,” the statement said. “And as his children, we will grow up without a father, our best friend, our playmate and our dad.”
The family told The Associated Press after the sentencing that they were pleased with the results.
“We’re going to be a family. We’re going to move forward. We’re going to tour, play the music and miss him,” brother Jermaine Jackson said.
Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after a six-week trial that presented the most detailed account yet of Jackson’s final hours but left many questions about Murray’s treatment of the superstar with propofol.
The jury heard the recording of Jackson during the trial but defense attorneys never explained in court why Murray recorded the impaired singer six weeks before his death.
“We have to be phenomenal,” he was heard saying about his “This Is It” comeback concerts in London. “When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, `I’ve never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I’ve never seen nothing like this. Go. It’s amazing. He’s the greatest entertainer in the world.'”
Before sentencing, lead defense attorney Ed Chernoff attacked Jackson, as he and his team frequently did during the doctor’s trial. “Michael Jackson was a drug seeker,” he said.
Murray did not directly address the court. After sentencing, he mouthed the words “I love you” to his mother and girlfriend in the courtroom.
Murray’s mother, Milta Rush, sat alone on a bench in the courthouse hallway after the sentencing.
“My son is not what they charged him to be,” she said quietly. “He was a gentle child from the time he was small. ”
A probation report released after sentencing said Murray was listed as suicidal and mentally disturbed in jail records before his sentencing.
However, Murray’s spokesman Mark Fierro said a defense attorney visited the cardiologist in jail last week and found him upbeat.
“That time is behind him,” Fierro said. “He’s a resilient man.”
Murray was not interviewed by probation officers.
Jackson’s death in June 2009 stunned the world, as did the ensuing investigation that led to Murray being charged in February 2010.
Murray told detectives he had been giving the singer nightly doses of propofol to help him sleep as he prepared for the series of comeback concerts.
Propofol is supposed to be used in hospital settings and has never been approved for sleep treatments, yet Murray acknowledged giving it to Jackson then leaving the room on the day the singer died.
Murray declined to testify during his trial but did opt to participate in a documentary in which he said he didn’t consider himself guilty of any crime and blamed Jackson for entrapping him into administering the propofol doses. His attorneys contended throughout the case that Jackson must have given himself the fatal dose when Murray left the singer’s bedside.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors cited Murray’s statements to advocate for the maximum term. They also want him to pay restitution to the singer’s three children – Prince, Paris and Blanket.
The amount Murray has to pay will be determined at a hearing in January.
“Anything over a couple of dollars, he’s not going to be able to pay anyway,” Flanagan said.
Murray was deeply in debt when he agreed to serve as Jackson’s personal physician for $150,000 a month, and the singer died before Murray received any money.
Prosecutors said the relationship of Jackson and Murray was corrupted by greed. Murray left his practices to serve as Jackson’s doctor and look out for his well-being, but instead acted as an employee catering to the singer’s desire to receive propofol to put him to sleep, prosecutors said.
Murray’s attorneys relied largely on 34 letters from relatives, friends and former patients to portray Murray in a softer light and win a lighter sentence. The letters and defense filings described Murray’s compassion as a doctor, including accepting lower payments from his mostly poor patients.
“There is no question that the death of his patient, Mr. Jackson, was unintentional and an enormous tragedy for everyone affected,” defense attorneys wrote in their sentencing memo.