Dr. Conrad Murray was in dire financial straits when he signed on as Michael Jackson's personal physician earlier this year at $150,000 a month. That financial pressure could help prosecutors establish a motive if he ends up facing charges.
The Las Vegas cardiologist owed a total of at least $780,000 in judgments against him and his medical practice, outstanding mortgage payments on his house, delinquent student loans, child support and credit cards.
Court records chronicling Murray's woes in Las Vegas, where authorities searched his home this week as part of a manslaughter investigation into Jackson's death, might help explain why — beyond the chance to get close to a celebrity — Murray seized the chance to keep the pop star healthy through a series of concerts in London.
"Here he is, dealing with one of the most famous people in the world. There may have been a great deal of pressure to do what Michael Jackson wanted, give him the drugs he wanted, treat him the way Michael Jackson wanted to be treated, even if it wasn't in keeping with medical protocol," said Steve Cron, a criminal defense attorney and adjunct professor at Pepperdine University's law school.
Authorities investigating Jackson's death at his rented Los Angeles mansion believe Murray gave the star a fatal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol to help him sleep, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.
Propofol is commonly used for surgery and is not meant as a sleep agent or to be given in private homes. Because of its potency, only trained anesthesia professionals are supposed to administer it, and patients are supposed to be constantly monitored.
If prosecutors bring charges, Murray's financial trouble "does potentially provide evidence of good motive for financial-based crimes, including prescribing when there is not a medical necessity," said Rebecca Lonergan, a University of Southern California law professor and former federal prosecutor of health care fraud cases.
Murray, 56, has not spoken publicly since Jackson's June 25 death. His lawyer, Edward Chernoff, has said the doctor did not prescribe anything that "should have" killed Jackson.
Murray was hired through Jackson's promoter in May, as his bleak financial picture threatened to worsen. He was under court orders to pay more than $363,000 for equipment for his heart clinic, and was ordered in April to repay $71,000 in student loans dating to the 1980s. Two lawsuits claiming he owes $240,000 more for unpaid equipment are pending in Nevada courts.
Also, Murray's 5,268-square-foot home near the 18th hole of a golf course is in "pre-foreclosure" after he failed to make payments on his $1.66 million loan, records show. He stopped paying the $15,000-per-month mortgage in December and could lose the home by November, said Mary Hunt, the foreclosure officer handling the case.
Neither Jackson nor AEG Live, the promoter for the London concerts that was prepared to pay him $150,000 a month, paid Murray for the two months the doctor worked for the pop star, according to Chernoff.
"Dr. Murray has lost the ability to make a living as a result of this investigation," Chernoff said. "His hope is he can forestall foreclosure until he can once again begin working as a doctor."
Murray's cresting financial woes fit into a history of money problems. He filed for bankruptcy in California in 1992 and had a string of tax liens in California and Arizona between 1993 and 2003. Also, a former business partner in an energy-drink distribution venture claimed Murray owed him $68,000.
John Thomas, distributor of a drink called Pit Bull, said that in 2005 and 2006 Murray had the rights to distribute the product in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean island nation where Murray lived and worked before coming to the United States in the 1980s to study medicine.
The drink never gained popularity there. Murray paid his bill for a first shipment, then didn't pay for three subsequent shipments, Thomas said.