By: Karen DeSoto
Confirming Los Angeles police Chief Bratton's report that the death of Michael Jackson was a homicide, the LA coroner "determined that, at the time of his death, toxicology analysis show that Michael Jackson had lethal amounts of propofol in his blood."
It has been widely speculated that an array of criminal charges will be leveled against Dr. Conrad Murray and other physicians who treated Michael Jackson, but previous prosecutions in similar cases have not been very successful.
Today, however, many prescription drugs can be far more potent than anything one can find in the street, and the very high danger in abuse will motivate prosecutors to act.
Howard Hughes was the first high profile prosecution of a celebrity's treating physician. After Hughes died in 1976, Drs. Norman F. Crane and John Morrison Holmes pled "nolo contendre" to unlawfully furnishing drugs to Hughes from 1955 to 1974. A third physician, Wilbur Thain, was also charged but chose to go to trial. In 1981 he was acquitted of the criminal charges.
Perhaps the celebrity death with the highest profile of all was that of Elvis Presley in 1977. Following an investigation, Dr. George Nichopolous was charged with over–prescribing prescription drugs to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and seven others. Dr. Nichopolous went to trial, but, although he was later sanctioned by the medical board for ethics violations, he was acquitted of the criminal charges.
Flash forward 30 years and celebrities still seem to be dying in untimely fashion at an alarming rate, but the situation is perhaps exacerbated by the increasingly easy availability of potent drugs. At what point does law enforcement make an example of the physicians who double as drug dealers?
Thirty years ago there were no 24-hour news organizations to cover every detail of a celebrity's death. After the death of Anna Nicole Smith, charges were lodged against her physicians, and that gave some hope to those who felt that the time had come to discipline celebrity doctors, just as the law is applied to others who flout it. After all, we have laws against giving drugs to those who are obviously addicted, don't we?
The death of Michael Jackson may be the most publicly egregious high-profile drug overdose death of all time. No one associated with the medical treatment of Michael Jackson will walk away from this scandal with clean hands and the charges against them will likely include numerous felonies.
Dr. Conrad Murray has admitted that he gave Michael Jackson Propofol, a short-acting, intravenously administered hypnotic agent often used as anesthesia or sedation during medical procedures. It has been widely reported that Dr. Conrad used Propofol as a sleep aid for Michael Jackson, who referred to the drug as "milk". In addition, according to reports, Dr. Conrad admitted to administering lorazepam and midazolam, two very potent sedatives, hours before Michael Jackson's death.
The legal dangers facing Dr. Conrad and Michael's other treating physicians are serious criminal felonies that go beyond the charges filed in the Anna Nicole Smith case. Here, Dr. Conrad may be facing manslaughter charges. However, under California law a prosecutor may upgrade the charge of manslaughter to the more serious crime of second degree murder if the defendant is found to have "implied malice." Implied malice may be inferred if a person was grossly negligent coupled with the act of engaging in a felony at the time the death occurred. In this case, administering the propofol while committing the felony of prescribing to an addict, unlawful prescribing of a CDS or unlawful furnishing of a CDS, may give prosecutors the facts needed to upgrade Dr. Murray's charges from manslaughter to the charge of second degree murder.
The lesser charge of manslaughter requires no showing of gross negligence or implied malice, in the case of manslaughter, the needle used by Dr. Murray is equivalent to a car used by a drunk driver in an accident that resulted in the death of another person.
So, Michael Jackson's legacy may include implications far beyond his music, with the prosecution of doctors who violated their oaths and ethics and produced for themselves a criminal prosecution that the world will be watching.