Jackson’s voice, recorded before death, echoes through LA court as trial of his doctor starts

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. – First, prosecutors showed a photo of Michael Jackson’s pale and lifeless body lying on a gurney. Then, they played a recording of his voice, just weeks before his death.

Slow and slurred, his words echoed Tuesday through a Los Angeles courtroom at the start of the trial of the doctor accused of killing him. As a worldwide audience watched on TV and Jackson’s family looked on from inside the courtroom, a drugged Jackson said:

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“We have to be phenomenal. When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, ‘I’ve never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I’ve never seen nothing like this. Go. It’s amazing. He’s the greatest entertainer in the world.’”

Prosecutors played the audio for the first time during opening statements as they portrayed Dr. Conrad Murray, 58, as an incompetent physician who used a dangerous anesthetic without adequate safeguards and whose neglect left the superstar abandoned as he lay dying.

Defence attorneys countered that Jackson caused his own death by taking a drug dose, including propofol, after Murray left the room.

Nothing the cardiologist could have done would have saved the King of Pop, defence attorney Ed Chernoff told jurors, because Jackson was desperate to regain his fame and needed rest to prepare for a series of crucial comeback concerts.

A number of Jackson’s family members were in the courthouse, including his father Joseph, mother Katherine, sisters LaToya and Janet, and brothers Jermaine, Randy and Tito. LaToya Jackson carried a sunflower, her brother’s favourite flower.

The family’s most emotional moment came when the prosecutor played a video excerpt from Jackson’s “This Is It” rehearsal in which he sang “Earth Song,” a plea for better treatment of the environment.

As Jackson sang the words, “I used to dream. I used to glance beyond the stars,” his mother, Katherine, dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

Prosecutor David Walgren noted it was Jackson’s last performance.

Murray, who arrived at court holding hands with his mother, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison and the loss of his medical license.

Speaking for more than an hour, Walgren relied on photos and audio recordings to paint Murray as an inept and reckless caretaker.

Walgren showed a photo of a lifeless Jackson on a hospital gurney. He juxtaposed the image with those of Jackson performing. Walgren also played the recording of Jackson speaking to Murray while, the prosecutor said, the singer was under the influence of an unknown substance roughly six weeks before his death.

The prosecutor said that Murray recorded the conversation with his groggy patient on his cellphone.

Jackson trusted Murray as his physician, and “that misplaced trust in Conrad Murray cost Michael Jackson his life,” Walgren said.

The recurring theme was Jackson’s never-ending quest for sleep and propofol, the potion he called his “milk” and that he believed was the answer. Jurors were told that it was a powerful anesthetic, not a sleep aid, and the prosecutor said Murray severely misused it.

The prosecutor said while working for Jackson, the doctor was shipped more than four gallons of the anesthetic, which is normally given in hospital settings.

Chernoff, the defence attorney, claimed the singer swallowed several pills of the sedative lorazepam on the morning of his death and that was enough to put six people to sleep. After taking a self-administered dose of propofol, Jackson did not even have a chance to close his eyes, Chernoff said, claiming he died instantly.

Chernoff, who had long hinted that the defence would blame Jackson for his own death, added a surprise. He claimed that Jackson died not because his doctor continued to give him the drug but because he stopped it, forcing Jackson to take extreme measures.

“What we will hear is that Dr. Murray provided propofol for two months to Michael Jackson for sleep,” Chernoff said. “During those two months, Michael Jackson slept. He woke up and he lived his life.

“The evidence will not show you that Michael Jackson died because Dr. Murray gave him propofol. The evidence is going to show you Michael Jackson died when Dr. Murray stopped,” the attorney said.

He said Murray was trying to wean Jackson off of propofol and had been giving him other sleep aids known as benzodiazepines trying to lull him to sleep.

On June 25, 2009, the last day of Jackson’s life, Chernoff said, he was in the third day of a weaning process and it didn’t work.

“Michael Jackson started begging. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t sleeping…. When Michael Jackson told Dr. Murray ‘I have to sleep. They will cancel my performance,’ he meant it,” Chernoff said.

Murray, in a recording of his interview with police detectives, acknowledged that he relented and agreed to give Jackson a small dose of propofol.

Walgren said Murray’s claim that he gave the singer a minuscule dosage, enough to keep him asleep perhaps five minutes, was not true. He also accused Murray of deception when he hid from paramedics and hospital emergency staff that he had given Jackson propofol. He said they were desperately trying to revive him but didn’t know about the drug.

He returned repeatedly to the fee Murray was to be paid – $150,000 a month – and pointed out that he first had asked for $5 million.

“There was no doctor-patient relationship,” Walgren said. “… What existed here was an employer-employee relationship. He was not working for the health of Michael Jackson. Dr. Murray was working for a fee of $150,000.”

Chernoff countered with a description of Murray’s history of treating indigent patients for free. At times during the defence attorney’s opening statements, Murray appeared to be crying and wiped his eyes with a tissue.

Jackson’s family members appeared pained as Walgren described the singer as a vulnerable figure, left alone with drugs coursing through his body.

“It violates not only the standard of care but the decency of one human being to another,” he said. “Dr. Murray abandoned Michael when he needed help.”

Following opening statements, Jackson’s choreographer and friend, Kenny Ortega, testified that Jackson was in bad shape physically and mentally less than a week before his death.

He said he sent a message to Randy Phillips, producer of the “This Is It” concert, telling him that Jackson was ill, probably should have a psychological evaluation and was not ready to perform.

“It’s important for everyone to know he really wants this,” he wrote. “It would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug. He’s terribly frightened it’s all going to go away.”

In response to the email, Ortega said, a meeting was called at Jackson’s house where Ortega clashed with Murray, who told him to stop playing amateur psychiatrist and doctor.

“He said Michael was physically and emotionally capable of handling all his responsibilities for the show,’” said Ortega, “I was shocked. Michael didn’t seem to be physically or emotionally stable.”

Within a few days, he said, Jackson had recouped his energy and was full of enthusiasm for the show.

During the defence opening statement, Chernoff referred to Dr. Arnold Klein, Jackson’s dermatologist, who the judge decided will not testify.

The attorney tried to blame Klein for some of Jackson’s woes, saying Klein gave Jackson the painkiller Demerol and he became addicted to it.

He told jurors that Klein would not be testifying but his records would be available and an addiction specialist would testify that one of the side effects of Demerol withdrawal is trouble sleeping. Chernoff said Murray was unaware of a Demerol shot administered to Jackson on June 16 and thus didn’t realize there could be a fatal interaction with propofol.

Klein’s attorney, Garo Ghazarian, later in the day issued a statement calling the allegations preposterous and “merely an attempt to whitewash the facts surrounding the death of … Michael Jackson while under the management of Dr. Conrad Murray.”

He noted there were no traces of Demerol in Jackson’s autopsy or in his home, indicating he was not addicted. He also said Klein’s use of the drug was not excessive. He noted that Klein was cleared by authorities of any wrongdoing in Jackson’s death.


Anthony McCartney can be reached at 杭州桑拿按摩论坛twitter杭州龙凤/mccartneyAP

Russia’s ousted finance chief warns the budget is overextended due to defence, social spending

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MOSCOW – The influential Russian finance minister who was ousted by President Dmitry Medvedev warned on Tuesday that the government budget is overextended because of increased spending on defence and social needs, putting the entire Russian economy at risk.

Alexei Kudrin was forced out Monday after a public spat with Medvedev over the finance minister’s statement that he would refuse to serve in the government if Medvedev became prime minister.

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Such public criticism is rare in Russia’s tightly controlled political system, but Kudrin has seemed to enjoy a privileged position due to the respect he has earned in more than 11 years as finance minister and his close relationship with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Putin and Medvedev announced over the weekend that they intended to swap jobs next year. Many suspect Kudrin had hoped to be named prime minister under Putin.

Kudrin has openly disagreed with Medvedev on government spending in the past. He also has criticized the Kremlin’s control over the political process. In a speech in February, he said only free and fair elections would give the government the mandate necessary for painful economic reforms.

In his first comments since the ouster, Kudrin said his statement about not wanting to serve in a Medvedev government was “well thought out and well founded.”

“For the past several months, despite my numerous objections, some of them made publicly, decisions were taken on budget policies that without doubt have increased risks for meeting the budget,” he said in a statement. “And budget risks, connected first of all with excessive commitments in the defence sector and social sector, will inevitably affect the entire national economy.”

Medvedev had decided to raise military spending by 1.3 per cent of Russia’s gross domestic product. The spending hike, however, was likely sanctioned by Putin.

Kudrin said he had discussed his desire to resign in February with Putin, who asked him to stay on because of the challenges of managing the budget during an election campaign. Russia holds parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election in March.

Putin appointed one of Kudrin’s deputies, Anton Siluanov, to serve as acting finance minister, while one of Putin’s deputies, Igor Shuvalov, will oversee financial and economic issues in the government. Kudrin had held both posts: finance minister and deputy prime minister.

Standard & Poor’s said Kudrin’s departure and the impending job switch between Medvedev and Putin would have no immediate impact on Russia’s economic policies or its debt rating.

Investors and analysts, however, warned it would be hard to find a replacement who would be as effective in vehemently opposing populist spending, especially in an election year.

A darling of investors and post-Soviet Russia’s longest-serving finance minister, Kudrin was widely credited with softening the blow of the 2008-2009 global downturn in Russia with his conservative fiscal policies. During Putin’s presidency from 2000 to 2008, Kudrin set up a rainy day fund to stash away some of the revenue from Russia’s oil exports. The idea angered many in the government who sought higher spending, but ultimately proved to be an invaluable cushion.

S&P said the recent days’ events would be unlikely to result in a “significant departure from current economic and fiscal policies.” The agency said it expects “Russian state capitalism and the close links between politics and business to remain unchanged.”

The agency, however, voiced concern that a government reshuffle could make it difficult for Russia to “consolidate public finances” and boost long-term growth by “improving the business environment, competition, and the productive infrastructure.”

Some analysts said the decision to sack him would reflect badly on Medvedev.

Vladimir Milov, former deputy energy minister and opposition figure, wrote in the Moskovskiye Novosti paper that “the firing of an efficient finance minister in a grave financial and economic situation and with the authorities’ obvious inability to reverse it is an unexplainable decision.”

Ovanes Oganisyan, vice-president at the Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital, said in a note to investors that “the bench is quite short” for Kudrin’s long-term replacement.

He said the finance minister’s position will be key in the new government “considering the fiscal challenges that Russia may be facing in upcoming years, including a weak economic growth environment and growing budget deficits.”

Russia markets, buoyed by higher oil prices and surging stocks worldwide, seemingly paid no heed to Kudrin’s resignation. The MICEX benchmark index was up 2.4 per cent and the ruble gained 1.3 per cent against the dollar.

Protesters call Dick Cheney a war criminal at Vancouver book event

VANCOUVER – A 51-year-old man was arrested outside one of Vanocuver’s most exclusive clubs on Monday night during an event where former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney was promoting his new memoir. Vancouver Police Const. Lindsey Houghton said the protestor allegedly lunged at a staff member of the Vancouver Club, and choked him, causing him minor injuries. He was later released and will appear in court at a later date.

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About 250 protestors gathered outside the club to protest Cheney’s appearance, calling him a war criminal. The protest continued until about 10 p.m. and VPD report there were no more problems or outbursts of violence.

Vancouver Police beefed up their presence at the event, and Houghton said protestors tried to disguise themselves to get past the police line and into the building.

Protesters did however wave placards, chant slogans, bang drums and blow whistles, and blocked the front and back entrances to the Club, calling for Cheney’s arrest for war crimes and booing guests as they arrived at the $500-a-ticket dinner.

Cheney is in town to promote his new book “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir.”

“We’re very angry that he has chosen Vancouver as the first location outside of the United States to do a book tour event, and we feel it’s important that citizens of Vancouver show that we won’t tolerate a war criminal coming and speaking in our town,” said Derrick O’Keefe, co-chair of the StopWar Coalition.

“We hope to set an example that Cheney doesn’t see Canada as a safe haven.”

The sold-out event was organized by the Bon Mot Book Club.

The club’s founder, Leah Costello, said members decided to invite Cheney because of the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the release of his book.

She described the Monday night event as a moderated question-and-answer session.

Peace activists accuse Cheney of war crimes for authorizing and endorsing the use of water boarding and sleep deprivation against detainees while serving in George W. Bush’s administration.

The former vice-president has vigorously defended interrogation techniques used on detainees during the Bush years, claiming they saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Gail Davidson, a member of Lawyers Against the War, said she wrote to members of the Conservative government, outlining the federal law that prohibits Cheney from entering Canada.

“Canada has a duty globally to take measures to effectively prevent and punish torture.”

Davidson attended the protest and said she hopes it raises awareness about federal laws prohibiting torture.

Jim Nugent, a resident of Columbus, Ohio who watched the protest from across the street from the Vancouver Club, was not a Cheney fan.

“Obviously he is not a very popular man, Mr. Cheney is not. I’m glad to see it here. I’m just sad that your prime minister allowed him into your country.”

Nugent said he didn’t feel any anti-Americanism at the rally and criticized the Bush administration for the “lies” that led the U.S. into Iraq and the squandering of the country’s treasury.

“So many things occurred under that administration. We could go on for hours,” he said.

Monitoring the protest and the police presence Monday evening were members of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association who wore orange shirts.

This past weekend, Human Rights Watch urged the federal government to bring criminal charges against Cheney, accusing him of playing a role in the torture of detainees.

Don Davies, the NDP immigration critic, also argued that Cheney should not have been allowed into Canada.

Davies said the water boarding and sleep deprivation techniques that Cheney authorized violated both Canadian and international law.