By Alex P. Vidal
“We relish news of our heroes, forgetting that we are extraordinary to somebody too.”—Helen Hayes
AT around 9:58 o’clock in the morning (around 2 o’clock in the morning in the Philippines), while I was in a courthouse in Los Angeles on November 29, 2011, I sent this text message to Health and Wealth publisher and editor and now The Daily Guardian columnist, Herbert Vego, in Iloilo City in the Philippines: “Flash report: Dr. Conrad Murray sentenced to 4 years in jail for death of Michael Jackson. Dramatic scene here in L.A. court!”
It was the second time I disrupted Mr. Vego’s sleep by sending a “flash” report via text message early in the morning. The first was on June 26, 2009, and it read: “American pop star Michael Jackson was declared dead upon arrival at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after his body arrived at around 1:14 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Having been at the Stanley Mosk Los Angeles Super Court in Los Angeles several times in the past, I didn’t find it hard to worm my way inside the courthouse when then 58-year-old Murray was handed a four-year jail term for “involuntary manslaughter” in the death of Michael Jackson.
Judge Michael Pastor called the doctor’s treatment of the singer a “cycle of horrible medicine” and “medicine madness.”
I observed Dr. Murray’s facial expression from start to finish. His mood was somber, reminiscent of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a giant black man convicted of raping and killing two young white girls, arriving on death row in a 1999 Tom Hanks movie, The Green Mile. Coffey showed all the characteristics of being a “gentle giant”: keeping to himself, soft-spoken, fearing darkness, and crying often.
Teary eyed and fighting back tears, the doctor was aware he was being videoed inside the courtroom.
On Nov. 7, 2011, Murray was convicted by a jury.
Michael Jackson’s death on June 26, 2009, triggered a grief around the world, creating unprecedented surges of Internet traffic and causing sales of his music and that of the Jackson 5 to increase dramatically.
Jackson, then 50, was treated like a “medical experiment,” the judge exploded, which factored into his decision to hand down the maximum sentence of four years, which the Jackson family had requested.
Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication after he suffered a respiratory arrest at his home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood in Los Angeles. Murray, his personal physician, said he found Jackson in his room, not breathing, but with a faint pulse, and that he administered CPR on his bed to no avail.
After a call was placed to 9-1-1 at 12:20 pm, Jackson was treated by paramedics at his home, and later pronounced dead at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. On August 28, 2009, the Los Angeles County Coroner ruled Jackson’s death a homicide.
It was immediately reported that jail overcrowding could result in the four-year sentence being cut at least in half.
“Four years is not enough for someone’s life,” Katherine Jackson, the singer’s mother, told a TV crew after sentencing. “It won’t bring him back but at least he got the maximum.”
“One hundred years is not enough,” quipped Jermaine Jackson who said he would miss playing music with his brother Michael and being a family.
Along with Jermaine, Katherine, siblings LaToya, Tito, Rebbie and Randy were present at the sentencing, but did not speak, instead allowed family friend and attorney Brian Panish to read a statement on behalf of Jackson’s three children and family.
In the statement, Jackson’s children told the Los Angeles court that they lost their “father, best friend, and playmate” when the singer died, but stressed they were not seeking “revenge”.
The statement asked the judge to “impose a sentence that reminds physicians they cannot sell their services to the highest bidder.”
“As Michael’s parents, we never imagined we would live to witness his passing,” Panish read, on behalf of the singer’s parents Katherine and Joe Jackson. “There is no way to describe the loss of our beloved brother, son, father and friend.”
Murray’s defense attorney pleaded with Pastor to consider the cardiologist’s humble beginnings and good deeds, stressing that this was an unfortunate, tragic chapter in the doctor’s life.
“Whether he’s a barista or a greeter at Walmart, he’s still going to be the man who killed Michael Jackson,” Ed Chernoff said.
The defense lawyer also put some of the blame on Michael Jackson. “Michael Jackson was a drug seeker… He was a powerful, famous and wealthy individual.”
The judge’s tone grew sterner as he gave a scathing review of Murray’s actions while treating Jackson, saying the doctor “violated his sworn oath for money, fame, prestige.” He said there was a “recurring, continuous pattern of deceit, lies,” and cited a “longstanding failure of character” by Murray.
Murray “unquestionably violated the trust and confidence of his patient,” Pastor said.
The judge also mentioned the tape the Murray made of a drugged-up Michael Jackson who was slurring his words so badly he could barely be understood and suggested that Murray was contemplating a new tactic if he needed at a later date.
“That tape recording was Dr. Murray’s insurance policy. It was designed to record his patient surreptitiously at that patient’s most vulnerable point,” Pastor said.
The judge called the recording a “horrific violation of trust,” and asked, “What value would be placed on that tape recording if it were to be released?”
Prosecutor David Walgren read from a statement Katherine Jackson made shortly after her son’s death, telling of how the family’s world “collapsed” after Jackson died.
Walgren described how Jackson’s daughter Paris was crying at the hospital. “I want to go with you,” she told her father after he had passed.
“He trusted he would be cared for by Conrad Murray so he would see another day,” Walgren said.
He mentioned that Jackson had plans to go into film making with his children, a passion they had recently developed.
The Jackson family watched from the packed court room.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)