LAS VEGAS – Federal agents searched the home and office of Michael Jackson’s personal physician Tuesday in a widening investigation of whether administering a powerful anesthetic as a sleep aid was so reckless that it constitutes manslaughter.
Such charges against a doctor for the death of a patient are extremely rare. Authorities would have to show there was a reckless action that created a risk of death.
After a three hour-search of Dr. Conrad Murray’s sprawling home near the 18th hole of a golf course in a private gated community, Los Angeles police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents carried away five or six plastic storage containers and several thick manila envelopes. Across town authorities searched Murray’s medical offices, Global Cardiovascular Associates Inc., for nine hours seeking documents. Investigators removed several boxes but declined to describe what they had seized.
Murray’s lawyer, Edward Chernoff, issued a statement saying the sealed search warrant “authorized investigators to look for medical records relating to Michael Jackson and all of his reported aliases.”
Murray was present during the search of his home and assisted the officers, who seized cell phones and a computer hard drive, Chernoff said.
Though authorities characterize Murray as the target of the investigation, they have stopped short of labeling him a suspect.
Murray told investigators he administered the anesthetic propofol to Jackson the night he died to help him sleep, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official told AP that Murray left the bedroom where Jackson was sedated and returned to find the star not breathing. It’s unclear how long Murray was out of the room.
The official said investigators are working under the theory that propofol caused Jackson’s heart to stop. Toxicology reports that should show what killed Jackson are expected as early as this week.
Propofol typically is used to render patients unconscious for surgery. The drug can depress breathing and lower heart rates and blood pressure.
Home use of propofol is virtually unheard of, and if Murray left Jackson’s side he would have violated guidelines for the safe use of the drug drawn up by the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Those rules say a physician “should be physically present throughout the sedation and remain immediately available until the patient is medically discharged from the post procedure recovery area.”
In considering a manslaughter charge against a doctor, a patient’s complicity in taking the risk could reduce the doctor’s culpability, said Harland Braun, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney who has represented doctors in cases involving administering of drugs.