On this day in 2011, Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of singer Michael Jackson, is sentenced in a Los Angeles County courtroom to four years behind bars. The iconic pop star died at age 50 at his California home after suffering cardiac arrest while under the influence of propofol, a surgical anesthetic given to him by Murray as a sleep aid.
Jackson, who was born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana, rose to fame performing as a boy with his older brothers in a music group called the Jackson 5. With his 1982 solo album “Thriller,” Jackson achieved international superstardom. However, by the 1990s, he became known for increasingly eccentric and reclusive behavior, and his physical appearance was radically altered through multiple plastic surgeries. In 2005, amidst intense media coverage, Jackson was tried and acquitted on child molestation charges.
In March 2009, after a lengthy time away from the public spotlight, Jackson announced he would perform a series of comeback concerts in London starting in July. That spring, Murray, a cardiologist raised in Trinidad, was hired at a monthly salary of $150,000 to serve as Jackson’s personal physician while the singer rehearsed for his upcoming shows. Late in the morning on June 25, Jackson was found unconscious in bed in his mansion in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles by Murray, who tried unsuccessfully to revive him. The legendary entertainer was pronounced dead at 2:26 that afternoon at nearby Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled the performer’s death a homicide after lethal levels of the powerful sedative propofol, as well other drugs, were found in his system. In February 2010, Murray, who had given Jackson propofol as a sleep aid almost every night for two months prior to his death, was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He pleaded not guilty. During his trial, which began in September 2011, Murray was portrayed by the prosecution as an incompetent, greedy opportunist who recklessly gave Jackson propofol in an unmonitored setting (the drug typically is administered only in a hospital) and kept no records, among other serious medical errors. Prosecutors said Murray set aside sound medical judgment by relenting when Jackson, one of the world’s most famous men, regularly begged him for propofol in order to sleep. Additionally, Murray was accused of belatedly calling 911 after discovering Jackson had stopped breathing, and with lying to paramedics and emergency-room doctors. The defense argued that Jackson, who was plagued by insomnia, self-administered the fatal dose of the drug.
On November 7, after deliberating for less than two days, a Los Angeles County jury found Murray guilty. Three weeks later, on November 29, the trial judge sentenced the 58-year-old to a four-year jail term, the maximum punishment allowed under law. The judge, in announcing his decision, criticized Murray for his lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility for his role in Jackson’s death, and said the doctor became involved in “a cycle of horrible medicine” in his dealings with the pop star.