Dr. Conrad Murray, who became famous for treating Michael Jackson just before the star’s death, has been sued more than a dozen times for claims including breach of contract and unpaid child support. Yet he has never been sued for malpractice.
The court record highlights two often-contradictory sides of the man at the center of the controversy over Mr. Jackson’s death from an overdose of sedatives.
To many of his patients, he is an affable and sympathetic physician, who took extra time with them and found effective therapies when others had given up. At the same time, he led a stormy and at times racy personal life, playing fast and loose with his obligations and leaving behind a trail of unpaid bills and unwed mothers.
“It’s almost as if when I read the paper, I’m reading about another doctor,” said Michael Goyer, a retired city manager who was treated for heart disease by Dr. Murray in Las Vegas. “I thought he was beyond excellent.”
Murray maintains he did nothing wrong
Dr. Murray, 56, is under investigation for his role in administering various sedatives to Mr. Jackson in the hours before he went into cardiac arrest on the morning of June 25.
This week, one of several women with whom Dr. Murray became romantically entangled testified before a Los Angeles County grand jury, law enforcement officials said. The woman, Nicole Alvarez, 27, an aspiring actress who gave birth to Dr. Murray’s child this spring, began dating him in late 2006, around the same time he met Mr. Jackson. She has first-hand knowledge of the doctor’s relationship with the singer, according to her close friend Ben Harris Jr., who says she told him she accompanied Dr. Murray on at least four visits to Mr. Jackson’s residence in 2007.
Ms. Alvarez has declined to talk with detectives without her lawyer present, and prosecutors are using the grand jury proceeding to compel her to testify, law enforcement officials said.
Dr. Murray worked as Mr. Jackson’s personal physician from May until the time of the singer’s death. He was promised a salary of $150,000 a month, but he was never fully paid, his spokeswoman, Miranda Sevcik, said.
He maintains he did nothing wrong. The Los Angeles County medical examiner has determined Mr. Jackson died of an overdose of propofol, a powerful sedative used during surgery, and another sedative, lorazepam; the police are trying to determine if Dr. Murray made mistakes, either through negligence or by consciously disregarding risks of the drugs, that would warrant a manslaughter or murder charge.
Dr. Murray has told the police he had been trying to wean Mr. Jackson off propofol when he died. That night he had given him three other sedatives, but finally relented to Mr. Jackson’s requests and gave him a dose of propofol in the morning to knock him out, according to a police affidavit. A few minutes later, while the doctor was taking a bathroom break, the singer’s heart stopped.
“He neither prescribed or administered anything to Michael Jackson that should have killed him,” Ms. Sevcik said.
The key question facing prosecutors and the grand jury is whether Dr. Murray was negligent, and if so, to what degree, legal experts said. For an involuntary manslaughter conviction, prosecutors would have to show only that Dr. Murray took a reckless action — one a reasonable doctor would not take — that created a risk of death or bodily injury. For second-degree murder, however, they would have to prove he knew the cocktail of medicines could cause death and ignored the risk, legal experts said.
With the investigation creeping along as the state looks into whether other doctors might have abused prescriptions for Mr. Jackson, Dr. Murray now finds himself at a low point in the tumultuous journey that began when he was a born to a poor single mother on a subsistence farm in Grenada. It continued in Trinidad, where he went to high school, then took him to college and medical school in Houston and Nashville, then on to Southern California, where he began practicing cardiology.
Finally, a personal crisis involving an extramarital affair drove him from San Diego to Nevada, where he met Mr. Jackson.
By all accounts, Dr. Murray has always had a charitable streak, a soft spot for poor people like the ones he grew up with. In June 2006, he founded a cardiology clinic in the impoverished neighborhood of Houston where his father, whom he did not know as a child, had been a doctor for years.
If he is charitable, however, he is also less than reliable in his personal affairs. Dr. Murray has been plagued with unpaid debts, delinquent taxes and lawsuits from creditors, legal records show.
He has fathered at least seven children with six women over the years, most of them out of wedlock, according to a deposition he gave in a 1998 paternity suit in San Diego and a California birth record for his youngest child, who was born in March. He has been sued several times for unpaid child support, and in his youth, he was arrested at least twice on charges brought by female companions, once for fraudulent breach of trust and once for domestic violence, though never convicted.
Dr. Murray declined to be interviewed for this article. His spokeswoman, Ms. Sevcik, said he did not regard his personal life and financial difficulties as germane to the investigation of Mr. Jackson’s death.
Dr. Murray met Mr. Jackson in 2006, when the singer’s daughter, Paris, became ill on a trip with Mr. Jackson to Las Vegas, Ms. Sevcik said. A member of the singer’s entourage knew Dr. Murray and called him in to treat her; he struck up a friendship with Mr. Jackson.
In May of this year, Mr. Jackson hired Dr. Murray to be his personal physician on a forthcoming world tour, at a salary of $150,000 a month. Before taking the job, Dr. Murray consulted with a friend and patient in Houston, the Rev. Floyd N. Williams, about whether it was a good idea. He would be forsaking his practice, he noted.
“I told him if he could make him some money, which he wasn’t making out here, then take it,” Mr. Williams recalled. “I shed a tear that I ever said yes.”
By all accounts, Dr. Murray was in dire financial condition when he took the job. He had fallen $100,000 behind on the mortgage payments on his 5,200-square-foot home in Las Vegas, and faced foreclosure, an official with Stewart Title Foreclosure told The Associated Press.
Since April 2008, his practices in Nevada and Texas have faced $634,000 in court judgments for unpaid rent on office space and medical equipment, court records in both states show. Among the judgments was an order to pay back more than $71,000 in loans he took out to go to Meharry Medical School in Nashville in the late 1980s.
He was also supporting Ms. Alvarez in Los Angeles, who had given birth to his son in March, a California birth certificate shows.
Mr. Harris, Ms. Alvarez’s friend and a Los Angeles novelist, said Dr. Murray became romantically involved with her four years ago in Las Vegas, where she was working as a dancer at the Crazy Horse Too club. They met at the club when Dr. Murray hired Ms. Alvarez for a private dance in the V.I.P. lounge, said Mr. Harris, who was present.
“I’ve hit the jackpot,” Ms. Alvarez told Mr. Harris later that night, showing him a check for $3,500 Dr. Murray had given her.
Mr. Harris said Dr. Murray supported Ms. Alvarez, paying the $2,700 rent on her Santa Monica apartment.
He visited Ms. Alvarez once or twice a month and took her on trips to the carnival in Trinidad, Mr. Harris said. Ms. Alvarez declined to comment through her agent, Karl Sanger.
Doctor, wife left San Diego over similar situation
Dr. Murray’s relationship with Ms. Alvarez is notable because he and his wife, Dr. Blanche Y. Bonnick, had left their practices in San Diego and moved to Las Vegas in part to escape a similar situation.
The doctor had fathered a child with Nenita Malibiran, a married nurse who lived near him in San Diego and worked at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he was on the staff, her lawyer, Julie A. Brown, said. In 1999, Ms. Malibiran and Dr. Murray fought in court over child support, and the doctor acknowledged he had a history of fathering children and then leaving their mothers, Ms. Brown said.
During the trial, Dr. Murray wept on the stand about missing his newest child, though he had made little attempt to visit him, Ms. Brown recalled. She said the court had a hard time determining his income because he used a corporation to shield assets.
After winning the case, Ms. Malibiran had to sue Dr. Murray several times for failing to pay, most recently gaining a $10,893 lien against him on June 10, court records in California and Nevada show.
Since Mr. Jackson’s death, Dr. Murray has gone into hiding. He has rarely been spotted outside his large Las Vegas home, a $1.1 million house overlooking a golf course.
Despite the controversy over Mr. Jackson’s death, he has a clean history in his medical practice. He is licensed in four states, and has no blemishes on his record. Several patients in Las Vegas and Houston have come forward to vouch for him.
Art Flowers, 80, of Las Vegas, said he turned to Dr. Murray after another physician declined to perform an angioplasty following his second heart attack. Dr. Murray said he would operate.
“My own doctors told me to meditate and mortuate, and he said, ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with these people, we’ve done thousands of patients like you,’ ” Mr. Flowers recalled. “When the Michael Jackson story broke, I couldn’t believe it. Here’s a guy who is not only a very talented cardiologist, but who saved my life.”
This article,"Differing Sides of Physician Who Tended to Jackson," first appeared in the New York Times.