BY ALEX P. VIDAL
LOS ANGELES, California – Sometime in July this year, I made a promise to my publisher in the Health and Wealth, Herbert Vego, not to disturb his sleep by sending a text message early in the morning in the Philippines (between 2 to 4 o’clock) if the news I wanted to relay was not a matter of life and death or something earthshaking, to say the least.
I did disrupt Mr. Vego’s trip to dreamland in the morning of June 26, 2009 (June 25 US time) when I sent a “flash” report text to both his Globe and Smart cellphones that American pop star Michael Jackson had been declared dead upon arrival at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after his body arrived at around 1:14 o’clock in the afternoon.
At around 9:58 o’clock this morning (November 29 US time), I again roused him from his sleep when he became the first beneficiary of my text message that says, “Flash report: Dr. Conrad Murray sentenced to 4 years in jail for death of Michael Jackson. Dramatic scene here in L.A. court!”
Having been at the Stanley Mosk Los Angeles Super Court several times in the past, it was not hard for me to worm my way inside the courthouse when 58-year-old Murray was handed a four-year jail term for “involuntary manslaughter” in the celebrity’s death by Judge Michael Pastor who 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 like that 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.
The doctor was teary eyed and fighting back tears; he was aware he was being videoed inside the courtroom.
Last November 7, Murray was convicted by a jury.
Jackson’s death had triggered 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, 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 allowing 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 that 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.