Defense Questions Drug Expert in Michael Jackson Doctor Trial

The prosecution witness has relentlessly criticized Dr. Conrad Murray's care for Michael Jackson

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Friday, Oct 21, 2011  |  Updated 7:29 PM PDT
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The defense fought back today against testimony of Dr. Steven Shafer. NBC4's Patrick Healy reports.

Patrick Healy

The defense fought back today against testimony of Dr. Steven Shafer. NBC4's Patrick Healy reports.

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After hearing a drug expert detail how he believes Dr. Conrad Murray contributed to the death of Michael Jackson, attorneys for the superstar's personal physician Friday finally began their cross-examination of one of the prosecution's key witnesses in the doctor's involuntary manslaughter trial.

Conrad Murray Trial: Testimony Timeline, Who's Who, Propofol Guidelines

Attorney Ed Chernoff cross-examined Dr. Steven Shafer, who previously testified that the only plausible explanation for the death was that Jackson had been hooked up to an IV drip of the anesthetic propofol then left alone by Dr. Conrad Murray.

"That's a bold claim, isn't it," Chernoff asked.

"It's an honest statement," Shafer replied.

Chernoff also questioned the Columbia University researcher and professor about his IV demonstration for jurors on Thursday.

The defense attorney suggested Shafer had drawn conclusions that weren't necessarily supported by the evidence. Chernoff said the type of IV line that Shafer used in the demonstration was never found at Jackson's house.

Chernoff was at times charming, at time pointed, going after the assumptions Shafer made for his series of analyses on the impact of propofol and other drugs in Jackson's system.

"I'm trying to explain to the jury rather complex pharmacology. But, there's no other agenda," said Shafer.

"I'm just asking questions," retorted Chernoff.

Shafer gave his account Thursday of the events that occurred in Jackson's body during the morning hours of June 25, 2009 -- the day the King of Pop died. Murray's administration of the surgical sedative propofol without proper monitoring equipment was just one critical mistake, Shafer said.

But it was Murray's abandonment of Jackson that ultimately led to the pop star's death, Shafer said. Murray told detectives that he left Jackson's bedroom for about two minutes to use the bathroom after Jackson fell asleep. That was after he administered a dose of propofol -- the drug cited in Jackson's death.

When he returned, he said he noticed Jackson was not breathing.

"Had Conrad Murray been with Michael Jackson, he would have seen the breathing slow down," Shafer said. "He could have easily turned off the propofol infusion... and there would have been no injury to Michael Jackson."

Instead, Shafer said the propofol continued to drip into Jackson's system. Eventually, the singer's heart no longer had enough oxygen and it stopped beating, Shafer said.

"He has died, but he has died with the (propofol) infusion still going, and that's why the levels are high," Shafer added.

Thursday's testimony included a demonstration of the propofol drip in court. As jurors watched, the milky white substance dripped into a water bottle to demonstrate the final scene of Jackson's life.

Murray, who was spotted outside a restaurant in Santa Monica on Thursday night, would not comment on Shafer's testimony. He did say that he is praying for them.

"I would like to pray for the prosecutor, his associates and his expert witness," he told a TMZ photographer.

After questioning Shafer Friday, the defense is likely to start calling its own witnesses on the trial's 15th day. Those witnesses include Dr. Paul White, the defense's propofol expert who took notes as Shafer tried to pick apart defense theories.

One of those theories -- that Jackson self-administered the drug when Murray left the room.

"People don't just wake up hell-bent to grab the next dose in the syringe, draw it and shove it in the IV again. It's a crazy scenario," said Shafer.

Another theory posited by the defense is that Jackson swallowed eight lorazepam pills in the hours before his death without Murray's knowledge. The amount of lorazepam in Jackson's stomach was "trivial," Shafer said.

"(Murray) is responsible for every drop of propofol in that room, every drop of lorazepam in that room,'' Shafer said.

Adding to the courtroom tension, there is now a strain in the longtime friendship between rival experts White and Shafer.

On Thursday, the day of Shafer's IV demonstration, White was allegedly overheard commenting "what a scumbag." E! Entertainment's online report was brought to the attention of Judge Pastor, presiding over the case.  He confronted White after excusing the jury for afternoon recess and turned off the courtroom camera.

White denied the "scumbag" comment, but did acknowledge accusing prosecutor David Walgren of being "unethical." The judge ordered White to return for a hearing on Nov.16 to face possible contempt charges.

"What you have is this real drama in the courtroom, where you have the professor and student battling it out between each other," said Loyola Law Professor Laurie Levenson. "What this means is that the jurors are going to see that the experts are human, that they come in with their own biases. And, in the end, that could actually help the defense because if the defense expert is biased then, the prosecution expert can be as well." 

Associated Press writers Linda Deutsch and Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.

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