LOS ANGELES – With his trial nearing completion, the doctor charged in Michael Jackson‘s death told a judge on Monday he had not yet decided about whether he will testify in his own defense.
“I will still need more time to talk to my counsel about it,” Dr. Conrad Murray told Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor when asked whether the doctor understood his options to testify or remain silent.
Murray said he would let the judge know his decision Tuesday.
His comments outside the jury’s presence came at the end of a day when he heard his own expert witness say that he wouldn’t have accepted payment to do what Murray did for Michael Jackson – administering a hospital anesthetic in the star’s bedroom.
“I wouldn’t even consider it,” Dr. Paul White said. “It’s something no amount of money could convince me to take on.”
The use of the drug propofol to treat Jackson’s insomnia was “a complete off-label use of the drug,” he said. White also acknowledged that the drug should never be given outside a medical facility because of the need for proper lifesaving equipment.
White, a highly regarded and now-retired anesthesiologist, is sometimes referred to as “the father of propofol” for his early research on the drug. But on Monday he was a less-than-respected figure, drawing criticism from the prosecutor and censure from the judge who threatened to fine him $1,000 for contempt of court.
White came under a bruising cross-examination by prosecutor David Walgren, who attacked the expert’s recent claim that Jackson caused his own death. Walgren questioned White’s scientific calculations and noted he once led the defense to think Jackson drank an extra dose of propofol.
White acknowledged he had done no research on that theory when he posed it. A study later showed the theory to be unsupportable, he said.
While stopping short of blaming Murray for the singer’s death, White blurted out during cross-examination that he believed Murray had loaded a syringe with the drug propofol and left it where Jackson could have gained access to it.
That scenario had not been offered before and it could explain how a groggy Jackson could have awakened from sedation, grabbed the syringe and injected the drug into his IV line.
Defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan tried to repair some of the damage by having White justify Murray’s delay in calling 911 for help when he found Jackson not breathing. White suggested by that time, Jackson was probably dead and it would not have mattered if paramedics were called quickly.
Murray has said he delayed calling 9-1-1 while trying to give Jackson CPR.
White also said it would not have helped if Murray had disclosed to paramedics or hospital workers that he had given Jackson propofol. Murray didn’t mention the drug until two days after Jackson’s death, when he was interviewed by police.
Pastor had told White outside the jury’s presence to stop trying to sneak in references to private conversations he had with Murray. The witness had suggested his opinions were partially based on what Murray told him, but those talks were not submitted as evidence.
At one point, White said he had been told by Murray that Jackson had his own stash of propofol beyond the hundreds of bottles of the drug that Murray had purchased and shipped to his girlfriend’s apartment. Pastor warned White not to try to bring up the conversations or other excluded information again.
“It’s deliberate and I don’t like it,” Pastor said. “It’s not going to happen again.”
But by the end of the morning, the judge said White had violated his order. He chastised White for telling the jurors at one point: “I’d like to talk to you about this, but the judge told me I couldn’t.”
He said he considered that remark direct contempt of court but would allow White to explain at a contempt hearing on Nov. 16 before he imposes the $1,000 fine.
White was repeatedly questioned about the ways in which Murray had broken guidelines and rules governing propofol use. Walgren confronted him with excerpts from his own writings in textbooks that set down rules broken by Murray when he administered the drug in Jackson’s bedroom.
He also challenged a series of charts presented to the jury by White, who said he had not prepared them and had another expert do the work. The defense said that expert would testify Tuesday before the defense rests its case.
Murray, who has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter, has acknowledged he was giving Jackson doses of the propofol in the singer’s bedroom as a sleep aid. He told police that he left Jackson’s room for two minutes on June 25, 2009, and returned to find the pop superstar unresponsive.
White said in forming his opinions, he assumed Murray was out of the room much longer, making phone calls. The retired anesthesiologist said he would not leave the room if he were treating a patient who had indicated he liked to inject propofol into himself, as Murray claims that Jackson had told him.
White said he has been paid $11,000 for his work for the defense so far.
White’s testimony put him at odds with his colleague and longtime friend, Dr. Steven Shafer, who testified for the prosecution. Shafer said White’s self-administration theory is not supported by the evidence in the case, in his view, and he called the theory “crazy” during his testimony earlier this month.
White and Shafer were colleagues at Stanford University and conducted research on propofol before it was approved for use in U.S. operating rooms in 1989. Both help edit a leading anesthesia journal, and until White’s retirement last year, both were practicing anesthesiologists.
Walgren said Shafer will return as a prosecution rebuttal witness Tuesday.