LOS ANGELES – If Michael Jackson’s death turns into a manslaughter case, prosecutors would have to show that his doctor acted in a negligent or reckless fashion in causing the pop star’s death.
The possibility of such a charge emerged Wednesday after authorities served a search warrant at the Houston offices of Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s personal physician. Murray’s attorney, Ed Chernoff, said investigators were looking for items “they believed constituted evidence of the offense of manslaughter.”
Such a charge does not require an intent to kill and experts said the focus would more likely be on whether Murray took unnecessary risks in administering a drug or drugs to Jackson.
To prove a charge of manslaughter, authorities must show there was a reckless action that created a risk of death or great bodily injury. If a doctor is aware of the risk, there might also be an issue of whether the patient knows that risk and decided to take it.
A patient’s complicity in taking the risk could reduce the doctor’s culpability, said Harland Braun, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney who has represented doctors in cases involving administering of drugs.
“Every drug has a risk,” he said. “In the case of a manslaughter charge, you have to show it was a reckless risk to even administer it and that the drug was administered in a reckless manner.”
The search warrants for Murray’s office were obtained by the Los Angeles Police Department. LAPD detectives were joined in the search by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
DEA spokeswoman Violet Szeleczky said the search was focused on records, not drugs.
Chernoff said agents left with “a forensic image” of a computer hard drive and 21 documents.
Braun said the seizure of a computer indicates authorities are looking not just for patient records but also for e-mails either between the doctor and Jackson or orders for prescription drugs.
Loyola University law professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson said a search warrant gives authorities the opportunity to talk to employees at Murray’s office. She said they may be seeking evidence of a cover-up or use of pseudonyms in providing Jackson with drugs.
Murray, a cardiologist, was hired by Jackson not long before the pop star’s death on June 25. The doctor was with him in Jackson’s rented mansion and tried to revive him when he was found unconscious.
Among the drugs found in Jackson’s home was the powerful anesthetic propofol, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation. The person is not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
Propofol depresses breathing and the heart rate and lowers blood pressure so it’s supposed to be administered by an anesthesia professional in a medical setting.
Braun said doctors are permitted to administer a drug for uses not specified on the drug label as long as they don’t use it in a reckless manner. But the responsibility for the use falls on the doctor.