LOS ANGELES — Lawyers for Michael Jackson’s doctor sought to shift blame Thursday to another doctor and a drug different from the anesthetic that killed the star, calling an expert to testify that Jackson was addicted to Demerol in the months before his death.
They suggested the singer’s withdrawal from the painkiller triggered the insomnia that Dr. Conrad Murray was trying to resolve when he gave Jackson the anesthetic propofol.
Murray’s attorneys contend the ultimate blame lies with Jackson himself, but they also sought to implicate his dermatologist in the drug-laced path to his June 2009 death.
Late in the day, they called to the stand a top expert on the anesthetic propofol. Dr. Paul White is expected to cast doubt on a colleague’s earlier testimony that Murray was responsible for Jackson’s death. He returns to the stand today and is expected to be the final defense witness.
Court recessed before White gave his central opinion. He did say he was “perplexed” after reading documents about whether Murray administered the propofol dose that killed Jackson.
He noted that Murray described to police a very low dose of the drug. If that were true, White said, “I would not have expected Michael Jackson to have died.”
White said if Murray did in fact put Jackson on an IV drip of propofol and leave him unattended, he could not justify it. White did not offer an alternate theory of what happened.
Authorities contend Murray delivered the lethal dose and botched resuscitation efforts. Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
There was no mention of propofol during the testimony of Dr. Robert Waldman, an addiction expert who said he studied the records of Dr. Arnold Klein, Jackson’s longtime dermatologist, in concluding the star was dependent on Demerol. Records showed Klein used Demerol on Jackson repeatedly for procedures to enhance his appearance.
No Demerol was discovered in the singer’s system when he died, but propofol was found throughout his body.
Waldman relied on Klein’s records from March 2009 until days before Jackson died. Waldman said he was not shown earlier records and didn’t review a police interview of Murray about his treatment of the star.
Under questioning by Murray’s lead lawyer, Ed Chernoff, Waldman said: “I believe there is evidence that he was dependent on Demerol, possibly.”
Klein has emerged as the missing link in the involuntary manslaughter trial, with the defense raising his name at every turn and the judge ruling he may not be called as a witness because his care of Jackson is not at issue. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
But Klein’s handwritten notes on his visits with Jackson were introduced through Waldman, who said Klein was giving Jackson unusually high doses of Demerol for four months, from March through June 2009, with the last shots coming three days before the singer’s death.
Over three days in April, the records showed Jackson received 775 milligrams of Demerol with small doses of the sedative Versed. Waldman’s testimony showed Klein was giving the singer huge doses of the powerful drug at the same time Murray was giving Jackson the anesthetic propofol to sleep.
“This is a large dose for an opioid for a dermatology procedure in an office,” Waldman said.
He told jurors the escalating doses showed Jackson had developed a tolerance to the drug and was probably addicted. He said a withdrawal symptom from the drug is insomnia.
On cross-examination, prosecutor David Walgren tangled with the expert, who was hostile to most of his questions. He elicited from Waldman that the law requires physicians to keep accurate and detailed records, which Murray did not. The doctor said all drugs should be kept in a locked cabinet or safe where they could not be stolen or diverted by anyone.
Waldman said every doctor also must document when the drugs are stored and when they are used. Murray told police he kept no records on his treatment of Jackson.
Waldman, who has treated celebrities and sports stars at expensive rehab clinics, told jurors that treatment can work if the addict is willing to admit a problem.
Several prosecution experts have said the propofol self-administration defense was improbable, and an expert said he ruled it out completely, arguing the more likely scenario was that Murray gave Jackson a much higher dose than he has acknowledged.
Jackson had complained of insomnia as he prepared for a series of comeback concerts and was receiving the anesthetic and sedatives from Murray to help him sleep.
Murray’s police interview indicates he didn’t know Jackson was being treated by Klein and was receiving other drugs.
In response to questions from a prosecutor, Waldman said some of the symptoms of Demerol withdrawal were the same as those seen in patients withdrawing from the sedatives lorazepam and diazepam. Murray had been giving Jackson both drugs.