Jackson autopsy could pose problems for his doctor

October 2, 2009 5:38:51 AM PDT
Michael Jackson's autopsy report was surprising as much for what it didn't contain as for what it did: The singer was in relatively good health for a man his age and no illegal drugs were detected in his system.

Jackson's physical condition, detailed in his autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press, could be a useful tool for prosecutors as they weigh charges against his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, who told police he administered a powerful anesthetic to the singer shortly before he died.

The coroner has ruled Jackson's death at age 50 a homicide with his death caused by acute intoxication of the anesthetic propofol with other sedatives a contributing factor. The coroner found the propofol was administered without any medical need and that recommended resuscitation equipment was missing.

The autopsy findings block a potential defense for Murray - that Jackson hid serious pre-existing conditions that increased the risk of death from the drugs he willingly took.

"It clearly establishes that Michael Jackson was a healthy person whose death appears to have been directly caused by the administration of some very powerful sedatives," said criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Mark Werksman. "This autopsy report seems to clear the path for a prosecution that his death was caused by an overdose."

The Los Angeles County coroner's report shows Jackson's weight of 136 pounds was in the acceptable range for a 5-foot-9 man. His heart was strong with no sign of plaque buildup. His kidneys and most other major organs were normal.

Still, the singer did have health issues, many of them age related, including arthritis in the lower spine and some fingers, and mild plaque buildup in his leg arteries. Most serious was the condition of his lungs, which the autopsy report said were chronically inflamed and had reduced capacity that might have left him short of breath.

But the report noted the condition of his lungs would not have been a direct or contributing cause of death.

Murray's attorney, Edward Chernoff, said he was anxious to see the full autopsy results and would not comment until he had done so. He added that he stood by his original statement that Murray did not administer anything that "should have" killed Jackson.

Except for a brief video posted to YouTube, Murray has not spoken publicly since Jackson's death. In the video, Murray said: "I told the truth and I have faith the truth will prevail."

Michael G. Dave, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in civil litigation, said the autopsy report would be valuable for the Jackson family in the event they file a wrongful death civil suit. Such suits have a lower burden of proof than criminal prosecutions.

"That report, at face value, is dynamite for both the prosecutors and the heirs of Michael Jackson," said Michael G. Dave, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in civil litigation. "It will go a long way to enable the heirs to win any wrongful death suit."

Stan Goldman, criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the autopsy findings would likely bolster a possible prosecution.

"The question for me is not if the prosecution has a stellar case for involuntary manslaughter but if they are going to try to go for some kind of murder," Goldman said.

Records state Murray told police he administered 25 milligrams of propofol to Jackson. But that's a very small dose that would not have kept the star under for long, raising questions about whether Murray misspoke or police misinterpreted what he told them.

The report provided details about Jackson's state from head to toes.

He had a ¾-inch scar behind his left ear and another apparent scar behind his right ear. He had a scar beside each of his nostrils and another, 4-inch scar on his right shoulder. He had a pair of additional scars about 3-inches long at the base of his neck and smaller scars on his arms and wrist. He also had a small scar near his navel and a 2-inch scar on the right-hand side of his abdomen.

He was going bald at the front of his head, with his remaining hair described as short and tightly curled. The bald part of his scalp was darkened with what appeared to be a tattoo stretching across the top of his head from ear to ear.

The coroner found depigmentation of his skin around his chest, abdomen, face and arms. The report also said he was actively producing sperm.

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