Doctor's lawyer gets tough as focus moves to death-scene investigation and autopsy
The involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's physician Dr. Conrad Murray focused on testimony from the Los Angeles Coroner's Office on Thursday.
In the morning, the court heard from coroner's investigator Elissa Fleak, who investigated Jackson's bedroom for evidence. Defense attorney Ed Chernoff grilled Fleak, trying to rattle her by aggressively questioning her on her investigative skills and tactics. Questioning Fleak on her practice of destroying investigation notes after she writes her official reports and her method of photographing evidence at Jackson's home, Chertoff appeared to have partially succeeded in his goal: Under cross-examination, Fleak conceded that no investigation is without its flaws.
Later, the court heard from Los Angeles County Coroner's Office toxicologist Dan Anderson, who worked on the singer's autopsy. Anderson testified in meticulous detail about the various substances found in Jackson's system, including the propofol, lorazepam, midazolam and valium found in his blood.
Read on for a full rundown of the day's events.
Update, 311 p.m.
Dan Anderson (pictured), a toxicologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who worked on Michael Jackson's autopsy, took the stand Thursday afternoon to testify in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, detailing the drugs that were found in Jackson's body following his death on June 25, 2009.
Among Anderson's assertions: Propofol, lorazepam, midazolam and valium were found in the singer's blood. Anderson also testified that the Coroner's Office tested urine from the now-infamous urine jug found in Jackson's bedroom, and found "negligible" amounts of Propofol in it — though, as Anderson noted, due to its source, not many conclusions could could be drawn, and Anderson couldn't even say with certainty that the urine was Jackson's.
Los Angeles County Coroner's investigator Elissa Fleak has been on the witness stand all morning, as Murray defense attorney Ed Chernoff has been aggressively questioning her in an attempt to poke holes in her investigation tactics.
Fleak (pictured), who examined Michael Jackson's bedroom and body after his death, testified that she destroys her investigation notes after she uses them to write her official reports, as a matter of practice. She destroyed notes from her June 29 investigation, but didn't destroy notes from a second trip to investigate Jackson's house on June 29.
She said she kept the notes from June 29 only because the necessity of a second trip to an investigation scene was unusual. But Chernoff tried to use it as an opening to question her consistency.
Chernoff: "Would you agree with me that you made a substantial number of mistakes in investigating this case?"
It was inevitable, and HLN's morning coverage has provided another pair of trial catchphrases:
"Chernoff has become a turn-off," HLN commentator Michael Barnes' description of Chernoff's aggressive approach to questioning Fleak; and, in regards to the color of the liquid medication in the IV bag found in Jackson's bedroom — which, unlike propofol, was clear instead of milky-colored — an HLN viewer suggested the defense team should deploy, "If the bag is not milky, my client is not guilty."
Chernoff also called into question whiy Fleak did not mention an IV bag with tubing coming out of it hanging from an IV stand in her initial report, and questioned why Fleak had not photographed a propofol bottle inside of a saline bag, as she said that she had found it. (Fleak replied that she took the bottle out of the bag to determine its contents, then photographed the two items together.)
On cross-examination, Fleak admitted to prosecutors that no investigation is without its flaws.
"Did you conduct a perfect investigation in this case?" defense asked.
"No," Fleak replied.
"Have you ever conducted a perfect crime-scene investigation [in the Jackson case]?" defense asked.
"No," Fleak replied.
The doctor who performed Michael Jackson's autopsy and ruled his death a homicide, Dr. Christopher Rogers, is among the potential witnesses in the eighth day of the Conrad Murray involuntary manslaughter trial today.
CNN reports that Los Angeles police detective Orlando Martinez, who interviewed Murray after Michael Jackson's June 25, 2009 death, could also take the witness stand. Murray told Martinez that he had been administering propofol to Jackson for two months as a sleep aid, and jurors may finally hear the recording of the two-hour interview Martinez conducted with Murray.
Rogers, a pathologist, ruled that Jackson died of "acute propofol intoxication," and that sedatives were also a factor. Prosecutors contend Murray is criminally liable for Jackson's death because he recklessly administered the propofol, a potent surgical anesthetic drug, and was negligent in properly monitoring Jackson.
Today's proceedings will begin with the continuing testimony of a coroner's office investigator who discovered drug and medical paraphernalia in Michael Jackson's bedroom after his death. They covered a table in the courtroom on Wednesday.
Los Angeles County Coroner's investigator Elissa Fleak testified Wednesday that in Jackson's bedroom she found a jug of urine, 12 bottles of propofol (including an empty vial next to Jackson's bed), seven bottles of other medication (including lorazepam pills prescribed to Jackson by Murray) and a saline bag that had been cut open and contained an empty 100 ml propofol bottle inside.
Prosecutors contend Murray used the bag as a DIY IV drip to administer the propofol to Jackson; the defense counters Murray gave Jackson just 25 ml of propofol via syringe.
Murray's defense also argues that Jackson caused his own death by taking lorazepam and swallowing propofol when Murray was out of his bedroom.
Wednesday's proceedings also included prosecutors' attempt to make an emotional impact on jurors by playing the audio of a phone conversation between Jackson and Murray, as Jackson was preparing for the series of London concerts he hoped would spark a career comeback.
During the disturbing conversation, recorded by Murray and retrieved by a forensics investigator from Murray's iPhone, Jackson slurred so much that a transcript had to be used.
On the recording, the singer told Murray he wanted to use the concerts to raise money to open a children's hospital bearing his name, and that he was motivated by the fact that he felt he didn't have a proper childhood.
"That will be remembered more than my performances," Jackson said. "My performances will be up there helping my children and always be my dream. I love them. I love them because I didn't have a childhood. I had no childhood. I feel their pain. I feel their hurt. I can deal with it. 'Heal the World,' 'We Are the World,' 'Will You Be There,' 'The Lost Children' … These are the songs I've written because I hurt, you know, I hurt."
Murray's iPhone also included a voicemail from the late Frank DiLeo, Jackson's then-manager, who died in August.
DiLeo had asked Murray to test Jackson's blood, after the singer had "an episode" in a concert rehearsal the previous day.
On the opening day of the Murray trial, "High School Musical" director Kenny Ortega, who was producing Jackson's London concerts, testified that he had also expressed concern to Murray about Jackson's health.
In an email to Murray, Ortega wrote: "He appeared quite weak and fatigued this evening. He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, rambling and obsessing. Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated."
Murray's phone also contained evidence of a British insurance company's request for Jackson's medical records, after various news reports had suggested Jackson was in very poor health.
The trial is expected to last at least four more weeks. Watch our live feed:
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