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Justice Served Through Conrad Murray Verdict?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, a tribute to one of boxing's greatest legends: Smokin' Joe Frazier. He passed away last night from liver cancer.

But first, we have a conclusion in the death of famed pop icon, Michael Jackson. After about nine hours of deliberation over two days, jurors in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray delivered a verdict: guilty. Murray was the personal physician to Jackson and was believed to have caused his death by administering a powerful anesthetic.

We wanted to talk more about the verdict, but also what we learned about Michael Jackson from the trial, so we've called upon Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and Steven Ivory, a long time music and culture journalist who was close to Jackson and the Jackson family.

I welcome you both. I thank you so much for speaking with us.

LAURIE LEVENSON: A pleasure to be here.

STEVEN IVORY: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Professor Levenson, I'm going to start with you. What was the key evidence that you believe led the jury to render its verdict? And I do want to mention that you followed the trial closely.

LEVENSON: Well, I think the key evidence, frankly, was the collection of the evidence that they were giving propofol at home to Michael Jackson which, in itself, is grossly negligent. And then you had Dr. Murray, who was on his cell phone to his girlfriends, not even in the room. And even by the defense theory, if Michael Jackson injected himself - which I don't think most people believe - it would still be Dr. Murray's fault. He was supposed to be there to watch Michael Jackson.

MARTIN: And, you know, to that end, I had a conversation with Michael's brother, Jermaine, just when the trial was about to begin, and this is what he told me.


JERMAINE JACKSON: He trusted the doctor, and every doctor takes an oath to take care of their client, not to take their life. And whatever the doctor was putting in him - which was propofol - it wasn't administered in a proper setting. Propofol is okay if it's in the right hands, meaning an anesthesiologist. But when it's given to someone and they're not that - he was a cardiologist, and it wasn't in the proper setting. Then it becomes a weapon.

MARTIN: But Laurie, to that end, in the same conversation, Jermaine told me that the family had had concerns about Michael Jackson's use of pain killers and sleep agents and so forth. Did the defense try to argue that this was a factor - a contributing factor to Jackson's death?

LEVENSON: Oh, absolutely. I think the defense wanted to point to anyone other than Conrad Murray. Initially, they wanted to point to other doctors and the medications they had been giving to Michael Jackson, but the judge cut off that line of evidence. So the defense ended up pointing at Michael himself and saying that Michael was so desperate to be on this tour and to do well on the tour, that he must have taken something additional when Conrad Murray wasn't looking.

MARTIN: Was there ever any evidence, though, that he had taken the drugs himself?

LEVENSON: Well, there was some evidence. There was battling experts in this case, and so the defense expert said that you had some evidence in Michael Jackson's stomach and elsewhere in his system that suggested that there were some additional medications taken, but we never really had an absolute answer to how the, you know, what type of medication killed Michael Jackson. We do know that the propofol contributed, but we'll never know exactly what happened that night.

MARTIN: You know, Steven, that's interesting, because there are two different pictures of Michael Jackson that have emerged over the course of these last couple of years. One was in the film, the 2009 film, "Michael Jackson's This Is It," which documented his rehearsals as he was preparing for this tour. He seemed fantastic. I mean, he was dancing. He was working very, very hard, you could see.

On the other hand, in the course of the trial, you know, we saw this evidence of a person who was in constant need of pain killers and sleep agents, as we said, who seemed to be in constant physical pain. You knew him, and I'm just wondering which of those portraits comports to what you knew?

IVORY: Well, the picture that I knew was a healthy Michael Jackson, was a Michael Jackson in total control of himself. But I would say that if there was some addiction to pain killers, and I'm assuming that there was, that this probably began after the Pepsi commercial where he was burned. I guess this was in the '80s, where he was burned and subsequently needed pain killers.

You know, we also forget the fact that Michael Jackson was an athlete. You know, he was a dancer. He was an entertainer. But, you know, this was a guy who gave a lot on stage physically. And so you've got, you know, an ankle injury here, a knee injury there, and this is when I believe the pain killers began.

MARTIN: What, overall, Steven, do you think that this whole experience of Michael's death and his trial - does it change his legacy in any way? Or how does it shape his legacy, in your view?

IVORY: You know, I don't think his legacy will be changed. His legacy - his enduring legacy is that of an entertainer. And, you know, apparently, Michael Jackson was entertaining very well under this kind of duress, and we never knew it until the latter years. So I don't think that his legacy as an entertainer will be changed at all.

MARTIN: Steven, it is appropriate to mention that you lost not just an important subject, but also someone whom you knew and a friend. It still must be painful. What about for you? Do you feel that this verdict, in any way, does it - it's such a cliche, but does it offer closure for someone like yourself who is not only a fan, but a friend?

IVORY: I don't know that - you know, I saw the people outside yesterday saying that justice was done. Four years is what they're saying that this guy could get. Four years, 400 years, it just doesn't bring back Michael Jackson. So I don't know that there will ever be real closure. We lost something very special.

MARTIN: Professor Levenson, a final thought from you. What is next, here? What is the likely punishment for Dr. Murray, and what are the next steps?

LEVENSON: Well, as we heard, the maximum is four years. But even if he gets that four years, he likely would only do, maximum, two out of the four years, and probably less than that. We know that the judge does intend to give him a severe sentence as much as he can, because the judge put him in custody right after the verdict. And we also know that the defense will appeal. The main issue on appeal is going to be: Should the doctor have been permitted to point to everybody else who was giving medication and drugs to Michael Jackson along the way? Should he have been able to say: It's their responsibility. I'm just the scapegoat.

MARTIN: And finally, before we let you go - I don't know if you feel comfortable with this question, but there is this question of whether justice was served. As a close observer, you know, of the process, what is your view?

LEVENSON: My view is that it was the correct verdict. Based on the evidence presented at trial - and I think the prosecutors did a tremendous job presenting this case, especially from a D.A.'s office who has had not such wonderful results. For example, in the O.J. Simpson case, they were subject to a lot of criticism. But on this one, they were really ready.

I'm not in favor of people cheering outside of a courthouse, because, actually, I think that you're losing there what is the true loss, here: Michael Jackson as a father, as a son, as somebody who brought so much joy and happiness and music to society.

But do I think that the jury got the verdict right? Absolutely.

MARTIN: Laurie Levenson is the David W. Burcham Chair in Ethical Advocacy at the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. Steven Ivory is a music and culture journalist. His weekly column can be found in the Electronic Urban Report. That's an Internet news site which focuses on urban entertainment. They were both kind enough to join us from NPR West in Culver City, California.

Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

IVORY: Thank you.

LEVENSON: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.