LOS ANGELES (AP) - A coroner who performed the autopsy on Michael Jackson testified Tuesday that the pop star's death would have been classified a homicide even if the singer gave himself the final dose of the anesthetic propofol.
Dr. Christopher Rogers, chief of forensic medicine for the Los Angeles County coroner, was questioned by a lawyer for Dr. Conrad Murray, who is charged with causing Jackson's death by administering a lethal dose of propofol and other sedatives and failing to provide proper care.
Attorney J. Michael Flanagan suggested Jackson could have swallowed the drug, which is meant to be administered intravenously. While Rogers said that seemed unlikely, he said it would not have made a difference in his finding of homicide because of inadequate care by Murray.
Flanagan's inquiry was the first disclosure of how the defense plans to counter the involuntary manslaughter charge against Murray. The lawyer has suggested Jackson could have injected himself intravenously while Murray was out of the room.
The testimony came during an ongoing preliminary hearing after which Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor will decide if there is enough evidence for Murray to stand trial.
Murray has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have said he didn't give Jackson anything that should have killed him.
In court, Flanagan displayed a chart showing the drug levels in Jackson's blood at the time of the autopsy.
Flanagan asked Rogers, "If the ingestion (of propofol) is by the decedent (and) led to these blood levels, it would not be a homicide?"
"I believe it would still be a homicide," Rogers replied.
Asked why, the witness said, "Based on the quality of the medical care, I would still call this a homicide even if the doctor didn't administer the propofol to Mr. Jackson."
Rogers said propofol should not have been present in the bedroom because it is meant only for hospital settings and, "If there was propofol there, the doctor should have been prepared for the effects."
Rogers said Jackson had a strong heart and was mostly healthy. "The care was substandard," Rogers said. "There were several actions that should have been taken."
Rogers also testified that Murray was improperly using the powerful anesthetic propofol to treat the musician for insomnia, and that Murray was wrong to leave Jackson's side while he was under anesthesia before he died.
Under Flanagan's questioning, Rogers said he consulted with an anesthesiologist about the possibility that Jackson could have injected propofol into his intravenous line while Murray left the room.
"She concluded that the propofol could not have been self-administered, given the configuration of the IV setup," he said.
He said she also noted that Jackson's IV tube was connected to his left leg below the knee and it would have been "extremely awkward" for the singer to reach it, especially if he had been sedated.
"The question is whether all those things can happen in such a short time that the doctor was in the bathroom," Rogers said.
On Monday, a detective testified that Murray spent nearly three hours telling police about his final hours with the superstar, who was so desperate for sleep that he was getting the anesthetic in his bedroom six nights a week.
Murray's interview two days after Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, led police back to the singer's mansion, where they found 12 vials of propofol - a fraction of the 255 vials a Las Vegas pharmacist said he shipped to Murray in the three months before Jackson died.
Detective Orlando Martinez said Murray told police he left the room for only two minutes after giving Jackson a 25 milligram dose of propofol at 10:40 a.m. He said he returned to find him not breathing.
Another witness. Dr. Richard Ruffalo, was called to the stand by Deputy District Attorney David Walgren.
Ruffalo, an anesthesiologist and clinical pharmacologist, gave the judge an exhaustive rundown on the sophisticated medical equipment that should have been present when Murray administered propofol in Jackson's bedroom.
Among the devices were monitoring equipment for heart and lungs and resuscitation equipment.
"You need to know what you're doing with the expectation your patient will wake up quickly," Ruffalo said. "Even if you're using propofol for a short time, it can do a lot of unfortunate things, especially if mixed with other drugs."
He also said Murray should have been keeping written charts while monitoring Jackson's vital signs every five minutes while he was under sedation.
Police have said they never obtained written charts from Murray, who could face up to four years in prison if tried and convicted.
--- AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)