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July 23rd, 2009
09:36 AM ET

Lawyer: Jackson case now manslaughter probe

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/23/callan.paul.cnn.art.jpg caption="Paul Callan calls the search at Dr. Conrad Murray's office a 'major development.'"]

Detectives searched the Houston, Texas, medical office of one of Michael Jackson's doctors on Wednesday for "evidence of the offense of manslaughter," the doctor's lawyer said.

The search warrant at Dr. Conrad Murray's office "services part of the ongoing investigation into the death of Michael Jackson," Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Gus Villanueva said.

Murray was the doctor who was at Jackson's home when the pop star died on June 25.

Paul Callan is a former New York City homicide prosecutor and is currently a criminal defense attorney. He joined Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Thursday.

Kiran Chetry: Again, this was confirmed by the attorney for Conrad Murray and they're saying that they raided the clinic looking for evidence of manslaughter. How significant is this?

Paul Callan: This is a major development in the case. I mean here we have Conrad Murray’s attorney admitting that there's an ongoing manslaughter investigation. And we know that a Los Angeles judge has issued a search warrant. Now judges can only issue a search warrant where there's probable cause to believe a crime has been committed – in this case, manslaughter – and there's probable cause to believe that evidence of that crime is at Dr. Conrad Murray's office. So I think we can safely say that authorities are looking at him probably as a suspect. They're certainly hostile to his position at this point.

Chetry: What's the difference between looking for evidence of an accidental overdose – if you're dealing with drugs or if you're dealing with prescription medication that was given – what is the difference in terms of whether or not it crosses that line and turns criminal?

Callan: Well there's a major difference here because we know from the attorney's statement that they're looking at this as a manslaughter. So we would have to assume that if a doctor – and in this case if it were Conrad Murray – prescribed the drug, he prescribed it in a reckless or grossly reckless manner, knowing that it might cause the death of the patient. That's where it crosses the line. I mean you can have ordinary negligence where a prescription drug is given to a patient and the patient gets hurt. That's a medical malpractice case. But where it's gross or reckless conduct it crosses the line into criminality.

Chetry: In order to even execute this search warrant LAPD has to have some evidence, right? They need to get permission to do that, right? So what would the probable cause be in this case, given that the autopsy report has not been made public or released?

Callan: Well my suspicion is that police know about at least aspects of the autopsy report. They have to go to a judge and prove to the judge that it's more probable than not, more likely than not, that manslaughter occurred here. So I think you're going to see that they have toxicology reports and they probably have other corroborating evidence that Michael Jackson had access to illegal prescription drugs – possibly the drug propofol, which is an anesthetic – and it caused his death.

Chetry: We have talked about other celebrities. Anna Nicole Smith; her doctor's potentially facing charges. Other situations in the death of Elvis; his doctor was investigated. In this situation, a patient couldn't give themselves propofol because you have to inject it and you would be out. It's a sedative.

Callan: Yes.

Chetry: Does that make a difference here in terms of negligence versus actual manslaughter?

Callan: Oh I think it makes a huge difference. Because usually in these cases you're looking at a drug like Dilaudid or OxyContin where the patient takes it for pain. With propofol, it’s used only as an anesthetic to put somebody to sleep so that an operation can be done. So why would Michael Jackson have this drug? If he had the drug he had it improperly and self administration would clearly be reckless and it would implicate whatever individual gave him that drug. So this is a big development in this case.

Chetry: They also talk about investigators removing a forensic image off of a computer hard drive and also 21 documents from Murray's clinic. What might these materials indicate in terms of making a potential case – a forensic image off a computer?

Callan: I suspect that police are looking for a forensic paper trail that will link Conrad Murray to improper prescriptions given to Michael Jackson. Obviously they must think that there's something on his computer. It might have something to do directly with a relationship with Jackson. It might reveal sources of drugs. Where did Murray – if he prescribed propofol or gave him propofol – where did he get the propofol? Remember, they have recovered this drug so they probably know where – what manufacture it came from. Now they're trying to link it to Murray through the computer. That's my bet. But of course, we are speculating here and we have to make that very, very clear. Until an indictment is handed down, we won't know for sure.

Chetry: And until we get more details about the toxicology and the full autopsy, it’s hard to know as well.

Callan: And he's always presumed innocent under our system, of course.


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