Dr. Conrad Murray’s defense, his only real defense against the charge of involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson, is a simple one. He says that Jackson in effect killed himself. That he was so hopelessly drug addicted that he pumped himself up with the fatal drug or combination of drugs that killed him.
The unstated is that given Jackson’s world renowned aloofness and eccentricities, his self-destruction was all but foreordained. With anyone else and in any other circumstances, this would be a laughable defense.
The indisputable fact is that Murray is a trained physician. He was hired by Jackson specifically to administer and supervise his medications and medical care. He did not say no to Jackson’s continual use of the potentially lethal drug. He did not summon medics immediately when Jackson went into his fatal coma. No matter how self-destructive and on the edge one may want to believe that Jackson was, and that he did have a long history of drug use, it’s the wildest stretch to hold a patient responsible for his own death with his doctor literally in the next room.
But Jackson is not just any patient. Since the day he was hauled into court in 2005 on child molestation charges and the day, months later, he was acquitted on all counts in the case, Jackson’s name has been synonymous with controversy. The acquittal in the child molestation charge meant nothing to millions. Many still quietly whispered and many others openly slurred him as a child molester. His deep withdrawal from public view after the trial did not stop the endless swirl of malicious questions about his actions, motives and alleged perversion.
His death didn’t change things, either. Millions of Jackson fans mourned, agonized and were infuriated by his death. Countless others dredged up and hurled the same old, vicious accusations at Jackson as a freak, kook, and, of course, child molester.
President Barack Obama walked a fine and circumspect line in reacting to Jackson’s death. He sent the ritual condolences to Jackson’s family. But he also made veiled references to Jackson as a controversial figure when he noted that there were aspects of his life that were sad and tragic. The White House did not issue any formal statement on his death and when then White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked why there was not one, he testily replied, “Because I just said it.”
That officially ended the Jackson matter for the White House. Other politicians had no such reservations. They openly pilloried Jackson even slandering him as a “pervert” who did not deserve any public acclamation, but disgust.
Jackson’s name, fame and controversy are plastered all over what goes on in and outside the courtroom in the Murray trial. There are the tearful and heartfelt reminiscences and reminders from fans and court observers about Jackson’s towering importance to the music and creative artistry world, and his continuing rapturous influence on millions. The legal experts, meanwhile, endlessly speculate on the evidence in the case and whether it measures up to the high bar of criminal culpability.
Ultimately, Murray’s legal fate and Jackson’s celebrity name will rest in the hands of the jurors. Both are connected because not one of the jurors selected dared plead ignorance of not having heard of Jackson. The prosecutors and defense attorneys didn’t go there and try to determine the depth of the juror’s pro- or anti-Jackson bias.
Some of the jurors made it clear that they were Jackson fans, or that they thought he was a great entertainer. None expressed any misgivings about Jackson. The only misgivings were whether the criminal justice treated the rich and famous with kid gloves. More than one thought this was the case. Whether this means that the jury is so pro-Jackson that Murray doesn’t stand much chance of acquittal is another matter.
Indeed it should not matter. The jurors are charged with one thing, and one thing only, and that’s to strictly weigh the physical evidence and testimony and determine whether Murray did what the prosecution says that he did and that is cause Jackson’s death. That’s the sole standard that any jury should be charged with in determining guilt or innocence in any criminal case.
However, it would be the pinnacle of naïveté to think that facts alone determine trial outcomes in celebrated trials. Countless studies and surveys of criminal cases involving celebrities show that money and fame do play a huge role in these cases. Money allows celebrities not only to hire the best and brightest of attorneys, but to tweak and massage the message of innocence of their celebrity client outside the courtroom.
Murray used his celebrity name by dint of his association with Jackson’s death to get a crack legal team, and insure that they spin away his innocence outside the courtroom. A big part of that is their hit on Jackson that he killed himself. By any standard this shouldn’t fly. But given the always lurking undercurrent of controversy and doubt about Jackson from so many, they’re banking that they can put Jackson, not Murray, on trial. And this definitely shouldn’t fly.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.