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Murray's Defense Continues To Shift Blame For Jackson's Death

October 28, 2011

For weeks, Dr. Conrad Murray's defense team has been arguing Dr. Murray did not cause Jackson's death. Instead, the defense has been blaming Jackson himself claiming Jackson gave himself additional propofol when Dr. Murray temporarily left the room. In doing so, the defense has sought to shift blame from Dr. Murray to Jackson claiming Jackson is the cause of his own death. At various points in the trial, the defense has introduced another figure as being at least partially responsible for Jackson's death. That person is Jackson's former dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I am quite familiar with this defense tactic commonly referred to as the "empty chair" defense.

Although Dr. Murray is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, the case has played out much like a civil medical malpractice trial. Like a civil case, the prosecution must show Dr. Murray deviated from the standard of care and that Dr. Murray's deviation from the standard of care was at least a cause of Jackson's death. In some malpractice cases, the defense will seek to blame another person who is not a defendant in the lawsuit. The defense may literally, if not figuratively, point to an empty chair saying the person is responsible for the malpractice is not even in this courtroom. This is commonly referred to as the "empty chair" defense. With this tactic, the defense seeks to avoid responsibility by shifting blame from their client to someone not a party to the lawsuit. In the trial against Dr. Murray, his defense lawyers are blaming Jackson and another doctor, Dr. Arnold Klein.

Dr. Murray's defense team has been attempting to show Dr. Klein is responsible for Jackson's addiction to Demerol which purportedly lead to his insomnia and subsequent addiction to propofol. Demoral is a narcotic pain reliever that can, indeed, be addictive. A potential side effect of Demerol withdrawal is insomnia. Medical records show Dr. Klien used Demoral on Jackson in connection with numerous procedures intended to enhance Jackson's appearance. To help shift blame away from Dr. Murray, his defense team called to the stand this week Dr. Robert Waldman this week, an addiction expert. Dr. Waldman testifed Jackson was possibly, if not probably, addicted to Demerol. Dr. Waldman's based his this opinion, in part, on Dr. Klein's medical records. Dr. Waldman testified Dr. Klein was giving Jackson unusually high doses of Demerol with the last dose coming three days before Jackson's death.

It is unclear whether the defense tactic of blaming Jackson and Dr. Klein for Jackson's death will create the reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors as to Dr. Murray guilt. Regarding Dr. Klein, no Demerol was found in Jackson's system when he died. Thus, the defense cannot credibly claim Demerol directly caused Jackson's death. However, they can claim Demerol withdrawal may have caused Jackson's insomnia which, in turn, led to his addiction to propofol. Whether the jury will accept this justified Dr. Murray's decision to give Jackson propofol remains to be seen. Another interesting questions is whether the jury will find fault with Dr. Murray leaving the room while propofol was being administered into Jackson via an IV drip.

Regarding causation, it is inconceivable how Dr. Klein could have been the sole cause of Jackson's death. Even assuming the jury buys he was a cause of Jackson's death, that does not mean Dr. Murray was not, himself, a cause of Jackson's death. After all, if Dr. Murray was even a cause of Jackson' death rather than the sole cause, that may be more than enough for the jury to find Dr. Murray guilty.

Sources Used:

Huffington Post Website, Conrad Murray Trial: Witnesses To Describe How Michael Jackson Allegedly Administered Fatal Dose Of Propofol, October 27, 2011., Demerol, Last Revised 7/6/11

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