Probe of Jackson’s death focuses on his physician

Autopsy results inconclusive

By Harriet Ryan and Kimi Yoshino
Los Angeles Times / June 27, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - With initial autopsy results inconclusive, the investigation into Michael Jackson’s unexpected death focused yesterday on a financially strapped Las Vegas physician who was with the pop icon when he went into cardiac arrest.

Detectives were to meet with Conrad Murray, a cardiologist tapped to be Jackson’s personal doctor during his comeback concerts in London, yesterday afternoon amid questions about the singer’s use of prescription drugs. Earlier, investigators seized Murray’s BMW sedan from the driveway of Jackson’s rented mansion.

“It may contain medications or other evidence that may assist the coroner in determining the cause of death,’’ a police spokeswoman explained.

Murray was performing CPR on Jackson when paramedics arrived Thursday afternoon at the residence, and he accompanied the ambulance to the hospital. In a call to 911 from inside the home, an unidentified man said Jackson, 50, was on a bed being tended by his personal doctor.

“He’s not breathing. He’s not breathing,’’ the man said. “We are trying to pump him.’’

Jackson was pronounced dead at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center. Coroners’ officials completed an autopsy yesterday but said determining the cause of death would require additional tests, including a toxicology screen that could take four to six weeks.

“We know he was taking some prescription medication,’’ said Craig Harvey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Investigators were also turning to Murray for information about Jackson’s health and use of drugs. Police, however, stressed that Murray was not the target of a criminal investigation, and coroner’s officials said there was no evidence of foul play.

Licensed in California, Nevada, and Texas, Murray was summoned to Los Angeles in the last two weeks at Jackson’s request, said the singer’s adviser, Tohme Tohme. Murray, who also had a practice in Houston, had treated Jackson for three years, including a period when he lived in Las Vegas, according to Randy Phillips, the chief executive of AEG Live, the concert promoter mounting the London shows.

“Michael told me personally that he trusted this man,’’ Phillips said. The company was preparing to advance Murray a significant amount of money to be with Jackson in London through March. He was to travel with the singer and the rest of the company early next week.

“Michael wanted a full-time physician to treat him, someone who was just his physician,’’ Phillips said. He said he wanted to hire a physician once they arrived in London, but Jackson “insisted emphatically that Dr. Murray be his physician.’’

Jackson “just said: ‘Look, this whole business revolves around me. I’m a machine and we have to keep the machine well-oiled,’ and you don’t argue with the King of Pop,’ ’’ Phillips said.

The promoter said that sometime in February, Jackson submitted to “five-plus hours of physicals that the insurance underwriter insisted on. We were told he passed with flying colors.’’

Based on those results and the nature of the comeback shows, all of which were to be held at the same venue from July 13 to March, AEG Live wasn’t concerned about Jackson’s history of medical issues.

“This wasn’t as strenuous as a tour. There was no travel,’’ Phillips said. “He and the kids were going to be living in this beautiful home outside London and shows were spread out over six months. For him, it seemed like the perfect way to come back.’’

Phillips attended Jackson’s rehearsal at Staples Center on Wednesday night, when the entertainer was on stage for about three hours before leaving at 12:30 a.m.

“He was dancing as well or better than the 20-year-old dancers we surrounded him with,’’ the promoter said. “He was riveting. I thought we were home free. I thought this was going to be the greatest live show ever produced. He looked great.’’

Murray did not return messages left at his offices and no one answered the door at his Las Vegas home - a million-dollar stucco-and-stone dwelling in a gated community next to the Red Rock Country Club. Despite the upscale residence, the 51-year-old was struggling with financial problems.

In 2008, three judgments were filed against Murray or his company, Global Cardiovascular Associates, in Clark County, Nev., totaling more than $435,000, and two other cases are pending from companies that say Murray owes them a total of $355,000. The three judgments include $71,332 for school loans, $135,302 to Popular Leasing USA, and $228,420 to Citicorp Vendor Finance. He filed for bankruptcy in 1992 in southern California’s Riverside County.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.