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Jackson death was homicide, coroner says

Michael Jackson died from acute anesthetic intoxication. Michael Jackson died from acute anesthetic intoxication. (Associated Press/2005 File)
By Thomas Watkins and Justin Pritchard
Associated Press / August 29, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - Michael Jackson’s death was a homicide caused primarily by the powerful anesthetic propofol and another sedative, the coroner announced yesterday in a highly anticipated ruling increasing the likelihood of criminal charges against the pop star’s doctor.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office determined the cause of death was “acute propofol intoxication.’’ Lorazepam, another sedative sold under the brand name Ativan, contributed to the death.

Additional drugs detected in Jackson’s system were the sedatives midazolam and diazepam, the painkiller lidocaine, and the stimulant ephedrine.

The coroner did not release Jackson’s full autopsy report, citing a security hold requested by Los Angeles authorities investigating the case, and declined to comment beyond a short statement announcing the manner and cause of death.

The coroner’s determination of a homicide confirmed what the Associated Press first reported Monday, citing an anonymous law enforcement official.

The 50-year-old Jackson died June 25 at his rented Los Angeles mansion. Dr. Conrad Murray, the Las Vegas cardiologist who was the pop star’s personal physician, told police he gave Jackson propofol that morning after a series of sedatives failed to help Jackson sleep.

Murray has not been charged with any crime but is the target of what police term a manslaughter investigation. Multiple search warrants served at his home and businesses in Las Vegas and Houston sought evidence detailing how he procured the propofol that killed Jackson. Jackson’s interactions with at least six other doctors also are being scrutinized.

Except for a brief video posted to YouTube earlier this month, Murray has not spoken publicly since Jackson’s death. In the video, he said: “I told the truth and I have faith the truth will prevail.’’

Murray’s attorney, Edward Chernoff, said he was disappointed that the full autopsy report wasn’t released. Without that, it was impossible to seek independent expert opinion on the significance of the various drugs detected.

“Release the toxicology report, the whole thing. Sunlight is the best disinfectant,’’ Chernoff said. “This smells like gamesmanship.’’

Chernoff repeated his assertion that nothing Murray gave Jackson “should have’’ killed him.

It is not clear when the full report may be released. The coroner said the security hold would remain until the investigation is wrapped up. The Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney’s office said they did not know when that would be.

A statement by the LAPD said the investigation into the death is ongoing and “will result in the case being presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney for filing consideration.’’

The coroner’s determination does not guarantee that criminal charges will be filed. In the past seven years few doctors have been convicted of manslaughter, mostly involving their patients’ use of painkillers. To win a conviction, prosecutors would have to show that Murray acted recklessly and with negligence.