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Santa Barbara Psychiatrist Weighs In After Doctor’s Sentencing in Michael Jackson Death

Sherif El-Asyouty, who served as a medical expert witness for the trial, says Conrad Murray erred by not staying within his limits

Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor, was sentenced Tuesday to four years in the Los Angeles County Jail for involuntary manslaughter in what Judge Michael Pastor called “money-for-medicine madness” that he would not tolerate.

The sentencing hearing was packed with family members and news crews, including CBS News, which broadcast live from the courtroom. Murray, 58, was found guilty by a jury on Nov. 7.

Murray was accused of delivering a fatal dose of Propofol to Jackson who was found not breathing in a rented Los Angeles mansion on June 25, 2009. Investigators determined the death was a homicide, not an accidental overdose, which lead to Murray’s arrest and trial.

The prosecution asked for more than $100 million in restitution for Jackson’s family, which will be considered at a hearing in January.

Murray will receive credit for 46 days in custody toward his sentence, from 23 actual days and 23 days for good time/work time. He didn’t speak during Tuesday’s hearing.

The judge said he believes Murray has no remorse and is a danger to the community.

“(Jackson) died because of a totality of circumstances that are directly attributable to Dr. Murray,” he said. “It’s not some mistake or some accident, but because of a series of decisions Dr. Murray made which jeopardized his patient.”

Those violations and a “recurring, continuous pattern of deceit” overcome any good deeds he may have done earlier in his life, according to Pastor. He said Murray abandoned his patient, who was vulnerable under the conditions Murray put him in by administering the drugs, and repeatedly attempted to cover up his transgressions.

“Experimental medicine is not going to be tolerated,” Pastor said. “Mr. Jackson was an experiment. That he participated in it doesn’t excuse it.”

The Jackson family’s attorney, Brian Panish, read a statement before Pastor’s decision in which the family asked for justice and the maximum sentence. He said Jackson’s parents never thought they’d live to witness his death and his children will grow up without a father, playmate and friend.

“His passion was for unifying the world through the gift of his artistry,” he said.

Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said Murray’s “careless and reckless behavior” in administering Propofol caused Jackson’s death. He said that while Jackson’s death wasn’t intentional, Murray’s gross negligence was shown by careful planning to obtain the Propofol, his decision not to keep medical records and for administering it for at least two months.

“The defendant was playing Russian roulette with Michael Jackson’s life every single night,” Walgren said.

The relationship between a doctor and patient requires a lot of trust, and the Jackson-Murray relationship was “grossly corrupted by the actions of Dr. Murray,” Walgren said. He also focused on Murray’s actions after Jackson’s death, saying there were efforts of concealment, such as a 20-minute delay to have someone call 9-1-1 and deceit when talking to authorities.

Walgren asked for the maximum penalty of four years and financial restitution for the $1.8 million memorial and burial costs and an estimated $100 million Jackson was expected to earn for his “This Is It” tour with 50 sold-out shows.

Defense attorney Ed Chernoff asked the court to consider more of Murray’s life than his employment with Jackson.

“I do wonder, though, to what extent the court considers the entirety of a man’s book of life as opposed to just one chapter,” Chernoff said. “The two months that Conrad Murray was treating Michael Jackson, he did so regrettably. He shouldn’t have done it. But when we talk about vulnerability, we’re going to be honest about vulnerability. Michael Jackson was a drug seeker and he sought it out from Dr. Murray, who was wrong in providing it.”

Murray has no criminal record and became a successful cardiologist after being born in a poor community in Grenada, Chernoff said, asking the judge to also consider the fact that Murray’s medical license has been suspended.

“All he is, is a doctor. Now, that’s gone. It’s his fault — not saying it’s not — but it is gone,” Chernoff said.

After Tuesday’s sentencing, Santa Barbara addiction medicine psychiatrist Sherif El-Asyouty weighed in on the outcome.

El-Asyouty served as a medical expert witness for the trial but never testified. He reviews cases for the Medical Board of California, which got the attention of Walgren, and much of his written report was used in the trial.

“It’s important to set the standard that it’s not OK to overprescribe,” El-Asyouty said. “Prescribing is a privilege, it’s not a right.”

El-Asyouty and Dr. Joe Frawley founded Recovery Road Medical Center, which specializes in helping patients overcome addictions.

El-Asyouty said it’s important to view addiction as a disease, not a personal choice or bad habit. He added that during Murray’s trial, defense attorneys often referred to Jackson as an addict who brought his problems on himself.

There’s a difference between medicine and drugs, he said. If medicine is misused or abused, as in this case, the medicine is used as a drug.

“We hate to see a doctor getting sentenced, but at the same time, it’s important to give and keep the respect for the job of a doctor, for this profession,” El-Asyouty said.

El-Asyouty’s license says physician and surgeon, and he knows how to do some surgeries, but he wouldn’t since they’re outside his scope of practice — and that’s where Murray got in trouble, he said.

“For somebody to invest that much time from his life and lose his medical license is devastating,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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