LOS ANGELES — A judge’s stern voice broke the silence of a Los Angeles courtroom: “Money for madness medicine,” he said before sentencing Dr. Conrad Murray to the maximum four years behind bars for Michael Jackson’s death.
“Absolutely no sense of fault, and is and remains dangerous” to the community, Judge Michael Pastor said as he delivered a nearly half-hour tongue lashing that denounced Murray as a greedy, remorseless physician whose gross negligence killed the King of Pop.
Pastor said Murray sold out his profession for a promised fee of $150,000 a month and accused Murray of committing a “horrific violation of trust” when he agreed to give Jackson a powerful anesthetic every night as an unorthodox cure for insomnia.
Murray will likely serve less than two years in county jail, not state prison, because of California’s overcrowded prisons and jails. Sheriff’s officials said he will be housed in a one-man cell and be kept away from other inmates.
The tall, imposing Murray, who has been in jail for three weeks, was allowed to change into street clothes — a charcoal gray suit and white shirt — for court. But he wore prison-issue white socks and soft slippers.
Jackson’s family said in a statement read in court that they were not seeking revenge but a stiff sentence for Murray that served as a warning to opportunistic doctors. Afterward, they said they were pleased with the judge’s sentence.
“We’re going to be a family. We’re going to move forward. We’re going to tour, play the music and miss him,” brother Jermaine Jackson said.
After sentencing, Murray mouthed the words “I love you” to his mother and girlfriend in the courtroom. Murray’s mother, Milta Rush, sat alone on a bench in the courthouse hallway.
“My son is not what they charged him to be,” she said quietly. “He was a gentle child from the time he was small.”
Of her son’s future, she said, “God is in charge.”
Murray, 58, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after a six-week trial that presented the most detailed account yet of Jackson’s final hours, a story of the performer’s anguish over being unable to sleep.
Pastor was relentless in his bashing of Murray, saying the physician lied repeatedly and abandoned Jackson when he was at his most vulnerable — under the anesthesia that Murray administered in an unorthodox effort to induce sleep.
“It should be made very clear that experimental medicine is not going to be tolerated, and Mr. Jackson was an experiment,” he said.
Propofol is supposed to be used in hospital settings and has never been approved for sleep treatments, yet Murray acknowledged giving it to Jackson then leaving the room on the day the singer died.
As for defense arguments that Jackson tempted his own fate when he demanded propofol, Pastor said, “Dr. Murray could have walked away and said no as countless others did. But Dr. Murray was intrigued with the prospect of this money-for-madness medicine.”
Pastor said Murray was motivated by a desire for “money, fame and prestige” and cared more about himself than Jackson.
The doctor was deeply in debt when he agreed to serve as Jackson’s personal physician for $150,000 a month during his comeback tour. The singer, however, died before Murray received any money.
“There are those who feel Dr. Murray is a saint and those who feel he is the devil,” Pastor said. “He is neither. He is a human being who caused the death of another human being.”
Defense attorney Ed Chernoff implored Pastor to look at Murray’s life and give him credit for a career of good works. “I do wonder whether the court considers the book of a man’s life, not just one chapter,” Chernoff said.
The judge responded: “I accept Mr. Chernoff’s invitation to read the whole book of Dr. Murray’s life. But I also read the book of Michael Jackson’s life, including the sad final chapter of Dr. Murray’s treatment of Michael Jackson.”
Chernoff suggested that Murray is being punished enough by the stigma of having caused Jackson’s death. “Whether Dr. Murray is a barista or a greeter at Walmart, he is still the man that killed Michael Jackson,” he said.
The judge said one of the most disturbing aspects of Murray’s case was a slurred recording of Jackson recovered from the doctor’s cell phone. His speech was barely intelligible and Murray would say later Jackson was under the influence of propofol.
Pastor suggested Murray might have been planning to use it to blackmail Jackson if there was a falling out between them. “That tape recording was Dr. Murray’s insurance policy,” Pastor said.
Defense attorneys never explained in court why he recorded Jackson six weeks before his death. In the recording, Jackson talked about the importance of making his shows on the comeback tour “phenomenal.”
Jackson’s death in June 2009 stunned the world, as did the ensuing investigation that led to Murray being charged in February 2010.
Murray declined to testify during his trial but did participate in a documentary in which he said he didn’t consider himself guilty of any crime and blamed Jackson for entrapping him into administering the propofol doses.
“Yikes,” the judge said. “Talk about blaming the victim!”
Murray’s attorneys presented 34 letters from relatives, friends and former patients to win a lighter sentence. They described Murray’s compassion as a doctor, including accepting lower payments from his mostly poor patients.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors cited Murray’s statements to advocate for the maximum term. They also want him to pay restitution to the singer’s three children — Prince, Paris and Blanket.
The exact amount Murray has to pay will be determined at a hearing in January.
In the meantime, sheriff’s officials said Murray will serve a little less than two years behind bars. A recent change in California law requires Murray to serve his sentence in county jail rather than state prison.
District Attorney Steve Cooley said he was considering asking Pastor to modify the sentence to classify the crime as a serious felony warranting incarceration in state prison.
“This is going to be a real test of our criminal justice system to see if it’s meaningful at all,” Cooley said.
AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney and writer Jeff Wilson contributed to this report.