A judge has dealt the doctor charged in Michael’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.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor, 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 Michael’s death and try to finally place responsibility for his demise at the age of fifty.
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 states, where he has clinics to do the same.
Murray has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Michael’s June 2009 death, with prosecutors accusing him of providing the singer with a lethal dose of the anaesthetic Propofol and other sedatives. The doctor has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court on January 25th for another arraignment.
Pastor made minimal comments on his ruling that there was enough evidence for Murray, aged 57, to stand trial. But the judge was clear that he thought Michael’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 Michael’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 Michael’s 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 attorney’s grilled experts on the possibility, that Michael somehow gave himself a fatal dose of Propofol. A coroner’s official and a prosecution expert said, that while it’s possible Michael 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 anaesthesiologist who testified as an expert witness, said Murray expressed concern about Michael being addicted to the anaesthetic, in an interview with police two days after Michael’s death. The cardiologist told police he left Michael alone to use the restroom, and when he returned Michael 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 anaesthesiologist who testified as an expert witness. He said Murray lacked the proper medical equipment to properly monitor Michael, who was receiving Propofol to help him sleep six nights a week, for at least two months before he died. Ruffalo, gave the judge an exhaustive rundown on the sophisticated medical equipment that should have been present when Murray administered Propofol, in Michael’s bedroom. Among the devices were monitoring equipment for heart and lungs and resuscitation equipment.
“You need to know what you’re doing with the expectation your patient will wake up quickly,” Ruffalo said. ‘Even if you’re using Propofol for a short time, it can do a lot of unfortunate things, especially if mixed with other drugs.”
He also said Murray should have been keeping written charts while monitoring Michael’s vital signs, every five minutes while he was under sedation. Police have said they never obtained written charts from Murray, who could face up to four years in prison if tried and convicted.
Ruffalo also indicated that Murray didn’t properly attempt to revive Michael, 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 twenty-one minutes, the doctor’s treatment of Michael represented an extreme deviation from the standard of care, said Ruffalo.
Murray’s defense attorney, Joseph Low, argued the case should be dismissed because prosecutors did not adequately prove how the doctor caused Michael’s death. He also said Michael’s health may have been a contributing cause.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren made the point in his closing arguments, during which he placed the blame for Michael’s death squarely on the doctor.
“Michael is not here today because of an utterly inept, incompetent and reckless Dr. Conrad Murray,” Walgren said.