The Public Jury
// JJ Brewis

When Michael Jackson passed away on Jun. 25, 2009, the world put everything on hold to contemplate what exactly this event meant to them. The news literally caused Twitter and Wikipedia to shut down, with over-eager internet users wanting to share the news and find out what had happened – the details of which were not available until very recently. Jackson’s death was similar to many of his famous colleagues: not much was known about the specifications or events leading up to Jackson’s last moments; most news was hearsay and general rumour-mill buzz. For nearly two years, the cause of death of a very public man was kept secret from his fans and peers.

Last month, however, Conrad Robert Murray, Jackson’s MD at the time of his death, began a public court trial that is still ongoing at press time. Murray is being questioned as the one responsible for Jackson’s death, given that he was in care of Jackson’s medical needs at the time of passing. The trial is being broadcasted live as well as dissected in every major news outlet, both reputable and tabloid-based.

Jackson’s death has suddenly become much like his entire life from when he began his career at age six: a completely public entity in which all the details are aired out for the public to access. Court trials happen every day, but only a handful gain public interest. Had Jackson been a noncelebrity, this court case likely wouldn’t exist, and Murray would probably get off scot-free. Given the media attention around this case, Murray faces not only the court charges, but the inevitable fact that his life is going to be different after all of this press, and probably not for the better.

The People of the State of California vs. Conrad Murray is debatably the most famous international court case since that of OJ Simpson’s alleged murder trial of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. The trial lasted over eight months, and consumed the public’s attention throughout its endurance. The interesting part about Simpson’s trial was how it overshadowed everyday news events, even when the trial itself was not creating “new news”. In America, regular people are murdered more often than press has room for, and new court trials begin every day across the country, but Simpson’s background as an NFL football star and film actor made his case worth of the public interest. Although Simpson was found innocent in his trial, his public persona remains changed to this day. Whether he was involved in the murders or not is no longer important; what remains is that Simpson’s trial was placed on television for the public to watch and this turned him into a monster in the eyes of millions.

Simpson and Murray are both in a similar firing range, not just because of the crimes they are put on trial for, but also as the result of the exposure gained in a telecasted case. The media is able to sway the opinion of the general public with the words they print on a page and the statements they publicize during the tenure of a trial.

An example of this happened recently, in what appeared to be uncannily good timing. Members of Jackson’s family organized a tribute concert for Michael, held in Cardiff, Wales on Oct. 8. Among all of the musical tributes was a special appearance by Jackson’s three children, all dressed in their father’s famous stage costumes. The images of the Jackson children hit the internet in a frenzy, juxtaposing the story of the previous day’s court session, where Murray gave a play-by-play testimony in which he had to outline the events of Jun. 22, 2009.

The two stories tie together quite interestingly when you realize just how much power and sway resides in the hands of the media. Not only is Murray being accused of murder, the public now subconsciously sees him as having orphaned Jackson’s three children. Jackson is also pegged as the victim in the trial, with daily news stories focusing on his struggle for mental and physical health, with Murray, as his caretaker, made to look as though he has failed at his job. The day before the tribute concert, Murray was questioned about his involvement with Propofol, the milky anaesthetic that allegedly led to Jackson’s death. Jackson seemingly begged Murray for “my milk,” according to news articles, giving Jackson the upper card as a suffering victim. Yet given his knowledge of the substance, Jackson knew what he was dealing with. Michael Jackson was an intelligent person, and yes, he may have been quite unstable at the time of his death, but placing the blame on Murray seems like a stretch.

Conrad Murray is up for a huge battle in his case; as a medical professional who is being accused of accidentally killing one of the most famous celebrities of all time, he has a lot at risk. If he is found guilty in court, Murray could face the loss of his medical license, as well as a prison term of up to four years. But even if he’s found innocent, Murray may never be viewed as a reputable professional ever again. For someone who was able to be employed as a personal physician for such a wealthy and famous individual, Murray clearly had done something right in his career path. But after such tragic circumstances, he is going to be worse off no matter what the results of this trial are.

Simpson never bounced back in the public eye after his trial, even almost two decades after it has ended. Though Simpson was found guilty in a later civil trial, the fact that he was found “innocent” in the criminal trial remains. But in cases such as this, the damage done by exposure throughout a court case is irreparable. When your face is posted on the cover of Time magazine with the words “Trail of Blood” overtop your police mug shot, chances aren’t very good that you are ever going to walk away “free”, regardless of what a jury decides. Murray’s future is hazy, and eerily like the path of his deceased patient Jackson. Once a man on top of his game, he is now facing a public lashing that is more dependent on the media’s portrayal than the actual actions he chose himself.

// JJ Brewis, Columnist
// Illustration by JJ Brewis

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com