John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley.
The autopsies of such legends should have been the most painstaking and impartial. But there appears to be substantial evidence to the contrary in these historic cases and others.
Could the autopsy of Michael Jackson be the same?
The full report has not yet been publicized by the Los Angeles Medical Examiner, Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, who covered the murder cases of both Phil Spector and O.J. Simpson. But released details and conclusions from his report give cause for wonder even on basic issues.
First, take Jackson’s weight.
The ME recorded the star at 136. But when booked on child molestation charges in Santa Barbara in 2003, he was 120. In the final six years of his life, Jackson handlers expressed alarm at his weight loss, calling him “emaciated” and possibly bulimic. His own personal physician and close friend, Dr. Arnold Klein, told TMZ that the King of Pop looked like he’d “come from Auschwitz.”
But the autopsy reports that Jackson gained 16 pounds in these last years. One would have expected a loss. Indeed, coroner inside sources said the star was “skin and bones,” and told Geraldo Rivera he weighed 112.
The next area of autopsy report peculiarity: Jackson’s lungs. In his 1988 autobiography, “Moon Walk,” he revealed that he had been diagnosed in the ‘70s with a condition related to pleurisy. Subsequently, he was often hospitalized with the flu, pneumonia and shortness of breath. He traveled with oxygen tanks.
Though the coroner found that Jackson did indeed have “chronically inflamed lungs,” he concluded that he was “fairly healthy” even so.
Since the star died of pulmonary failure, did the coroner test for the cause of the inflammation and find it to be indeterminable or benign?
In 1987, Jackson’s close friend, Liberace, died. His personal physician recorded cardiac arrest on the death certificate. But after autopsy, the Riverside medical examiner concluded the entertainer had died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia from the AIDS virus. His estate’s executors filed a libel suit against the coroner’s office. They lost.
Liberace — whom Michael called “Lee, my guardian angel”— had lost 75 pounds and been bedridden and on oxygen for months. He had been diagnosed HIV-positive the previous year by Dr. Elias Ghanem, Vegas’ doctor to the stars who had treated Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, among others.
The tragic 1990 AIDS death of young Ryan White devastated his benefactor, Michael. Soon afterwards, he was rushed to the hospital, suffering shortness of breath, vertigo and chest pains. According to his biographer, J. Randy Taraborrelli, he was tested for HIV and found negative. His friend and collaborator, Freddie Mercury of Queen, was not so fortunate: The virus claimed his life the following year.
Michael, too, was at high risk for the disease: He was a transfusion recipient and — according to his biographer, Ian Halperin, as well as several others – he was gay. In the last years of his life, he suffered many bacterial and viral infections, flu-like fatigue, nausea, as well as skin problems, dramatic weight-loss and insomnia. All are symptoms of AIDS.
But some also are symptoms of lupus (with which he was diagnosed in the late '80s) and of Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Insiders told Ian Halperin that Jackson had suffered from this virulent immunological disease and needed a lung transplant. In the meantime, they claimed the singer had undergone “augmentation therapy” – he was injected with pulmonary protein from human blood — commonly administered to AIDS patients.
So did Dr. Sathyavagiswaran and his team test this “fairly healthy” man for AAD or AIDS? Unlikely. Especially in the latter case. According to Dr. Carol J. Huser, author of the “Coroner’s Report” column for the Durango Herald, an ME is forbidden to test for AIDS unless he — as in the Liberace case — believes the decedent may have put others at risk of contagion.
“I test [for HIV] very rarely, as I think do most of my colleagues,” asserts Dr. Huser. “And, in many states, the results would be confidential and the ME could not release them.”
In 2001 Janet, Tito, and Randy Jackson staged a drug intervention on their brother. As detailed in Halperin's "UnMasked," Michael sent them away saying, “I’ll be dead in a year anyway.” Was he aware of having a terminal condition even then? Years later in Las Vegas, his family attempted another intervention, and Michael’s bodyguards barred their way, Dr. Arnold Klein told TMZ.
According to his father, Joe, Michael, in the last weeks of his life told his daughter, Paris, he might not make it to Father’s Day. The warning has inspired a murder conspiracy theory now supported by many Jackson fans as well as his family. They believe Sony and/or AEG Productions are behind it, with Dr. Conrad Murray as the needleman.
AEG hired Murray, insists the conspiracy camp. In fact, Michael had handpicked the cardiologist and demanded that AEG put him on the upcoming comeback tour payroll. “You don’t argue with the King of Pop,” said AEG head, Randy Phillips.
Jackson had been hiring traveling enablers for years. “When he went on tour he’d take boxfuls of drugs with him — he couldn’t do without it,” wrote his biographer and former friend, Stacy Brown, of the ’92 Dangerous Tour. Canceling it, Michael entered rehab and was put on suicide watch. In future years, he fell off the wagon and his drug abuse escalated unchecked.
Which brings us, finally, to the coroner’s toxicology report.
It identifies only the drugs in the last injections: the benzodiazepines and propofol administered by Dr. Murray in the final 10 hours of Jackson’s life. It should have been clear just from this — not to mention the countless injection sites — that the decedent was a drug addict and had built up an enormous appetite for and resistance to sedatives.
Given his prolific medical history, did the coroner’s office fulfill its legal obligation to conduct full discovery? According to California Code 27499: “The coroner shall summon and examine as witnesses every person who in his opinion or that of any of the jury has any knowledge of the facts.”
Did the coroner’s office subpoena Jackson’s medical records for life-threatening pre-existing conditions? Did it interview his innumerable doctors, one of whom, according to Joe Jackson, was Dr. George Nichopolous, Elvis’s enabler who was tried for manslaughter after the King’s own fatal overdose?
If such discovery was done, the coroner would have found a drug cornucopia for the King of Pop: tranquillizers for nerves and panic attacks; narcotics for pain; sedatives and anesthesia for sleep; amphetamines for performance; steroids for lupus and immunological ailments; antibiotics for recurring infections.
When the full autopsy report is publicized, will all these substances be identified? Will their long-term combined deadly effect — especially in concert with pre-existing illnesses — be appraised?
Probably not because this would be damaging to the prosecution which seeks to find the defendant, Dr. Conrad Murray, solely responsible for the death of a fairly healthy man.
As Dr. Michael M. Baden wrote in “Unnatural Death,” when he became the Chief Medical Examiner for New York City, “I envisioned the office as independent, scientific, apolitical … [But] It is an arm of the DA’s office. What is really wanted is an elastic man, one who will stretch and bend his findings to suit the DA’s needs … Truth and excellence play no part in the arrangement.”
The Innocence Project which helped pass the federal 2004 Justice for All Act makes a similar claim: "Exaggerated statistics and laboratory fraud have led to wrongful conviction in several states … In some instances, labs or their personnel have allied themselves with police and prosecutors, rather than prioritizing the search for truth."
The LAPD and DA have suffered embarrassing losses in high visibility cases over the years. People v. Murray may become as big as the infamous O.J. case. The DA badly wants a conviction. The coroner’s report will be the most hotly contested evidence. The defense will surely attempt to show that its findings are bent and stretched.
But will this be enough to exonerate the last enabler of the King of Pop?