LOS ANGELES — Michael Jackson’s personal doctor administered a powerful anesthetic to help him sleep, and authorities believe the drug killed the pop singer, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Monday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, also provided a glimpse inside Jackson’s rented mansion, describing the room Jackson slept in as outfitted with oxygen tanks and an IV drip. Another of his bedrooms was a shambles, with clothes and other items strewn about and handwritten notes stuck on the walls. One read: “children are sweet and innocent.”
The official said Jackson regularly received propofol to sleep, relying on the drug like an alarm clock. A doctor would administer it when he went to sleep, then stop the intravenous drip when he wanted to wake up. On June 25, the day Jackson died, Dr. Conrad Murray gave him the drug through an IV sometime after midnight, the official said.
Though toxicology reports are pending, investigators are working under the theory propofol caused Jackson’s heart to stop, the official said. Jackson is believed to have been using the drug for about two years and investigators are trying to determine how many other doctors administered it, the official said.
Murray, 51, has been identified in court papers as the subject of a manslaughter investigation and authorities last week raided his office and a storage unit in Houston. Police say Murray is co-operating and have not labeled him a suspect.
Using propofol to sleep is a practice far outside the drug’s intended purpose. One doctor said administering it in a home to help a person sleep would constitute malpractice.
Propofol can depress breathing and lower heart rates and blood pressure. Because of the risks, propofol is only supposed to be administered in medical settings by trained personnel. Instructions on the drug’s package warn that patients must be continuously monitored, and that equipment to maintain breathing, to provide artificial ventilation, and to administer oxygen if needed “must be immediately available.”
Murray’s lawyer, Edward Chernoff, has said the doctor “didn’t prescribe or administer anything that should have killed Michael Jackson.” When asked Monday about the law enforcement official’s statements he said: “We will not be commenting on rumours, innuendo or unnamed sources.”
In a more detailed statement posted online late Monday, Chernoff added that “things tend to shake out when all the facts are made known, and I’m sure that will happen here as well.”
Murray became Jackson’s personal physician in May and was to accompany him to London for a series of concerts starting in July.
He was staying with Jackson in the Los Angeles mansion and, according to Chernoff, “happened to find” an unconscious Jackson in the pop star’s bedroom the morning of June 25. Murray tried to revive him by compressing his chest with one hand while supporting Jackson’s back with the other.
It’s unclear how long it took for someone at Jackson’s home to summon paramedics, though Murray’s own lawyers have said it was up to a half-hour. Paramedics arrived about three minutes after they were called and tried to revive the music superstar for another 42 minutes before sliding him into the ambulance and racing with lights flashing and siren blaring to UCLA Medical Center, where Jackson was pronounced dead.
Authorities arrived at the singer’s house after the death and found a chaotic scene. The top floor had been all but sealed off, with only Jackson, his children and Murray allowed upstairs, the official said. Jackson’s bedroom was a mess, with items seemingly thrown about and some 20 handwritten notes stuck on the walls.
A porcelain girl doll wearing a dress was found on top of the covers of the bed where he slept, the official said.
The temperature upstairs was stiflingly hot, with gas fireplaces and the heating system on high because Jackson always complained of feeling cold, the official said.
Police found propofol and other drugs in the home. An IV line and three tanks of oxygen were in the room where Jackson slept and 15 more oxygen tanks were in a security guard’s shack, the official said.
Dr. Zeev Kain, who heads the anesthesiology department at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center, said he has never encountered a situation where propofol was given in a home to help someone sleep. Such a situation would constitute malpractice, he said.
Cherilyn Lee, a registered nurse who gave Jackson nutritional counselling and vitamins earlier this year, said he complained of insomnia and asked her repeatedly for Diprivan, the brand-name version of propofol. Lee said she warned him of the drug’s dangers and rejected his requests.
Los Angeles police interviewed Murray twice soon after Jackson’s death. Last week, detectives flew to Houston and, along with federal drug agents, searched a medical clinic he ran and a storage unit he rented. They seized a long list of items, including the contents of three computer hard drives, two emails from his administrative assistant at the Las Vegas practice Murray ran and various other documents.
A sealed search warrant approved by a Houston judge and later made public allowed authorities to seek “property or items constituting evidence of the offence of manslaughter that tend to show that Dr. Conrad Murray committed the said criminal offence.”