Federal agents searched the Las Vegas home and office of Michael Jackson's personal physician Tuesday in a widening investigation of whether administering a powerful anesthetic as a sleep aid was so reckless that it constitutes manslaughter.
Such charges against a doctor for the death of a patient are extremely rare. Authorities would have to show there was a reckless action that created a risk of death.
After a three-hour search of Dr. Conrad Murray's sprawling home, Los Angeles police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents carried away five or six plastic storage containers and several thick manila envelopes. Across town authorities searched Murray's medical offices, Global Cardiovascular Associates Inc.
Murray's lawyer, Edward Chernoff, issued a statement saying Murray was present during the search of his home and assisted the officers, who seized cell phones and a computer hard drive.
Murray, 51, told investigators he administered the anesthetic propofol to Jackson the night he died to help him sleep, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The official said Murray left the bedroom where Jackson was sedated and returned to find the star not breathing. It's unclear how long Murray was out of the room.
The official said investigators are working under the theory that propofol caused Jackson's heart to stop. Toxicology reports that should show what killed Jackson are expected as early as this week.
Propofol typically is used to render patients unconscious for surgery. The drug can depress breathing and lower heart rates and blood pressure.
Home use of propofol is virtually unheard of, and if Murray left Jackson's side he would have violated guidelines for the safe use of the drug drawn up by the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
In considering a manslaughter charge against a doctor, a patient's complicity in taking the risk could reduce the doctor's culpability, said Harland Braun, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney who has represented doctors in cases involving administering of drugs.
If a doctor is aware of the risk, there might also be an issue of whether the patient knows that risk and decided to take it.
Last week, authorities searched Murray's Houston clinic and a storage unit. Court records show they were seeking evidence of whether the doctor committed manslaughter.
Murray became Jackson's personal physician in May and was to accompany him to London for a series of concerts starting in July.
Jackson is believed to have been using propofol for about two years and investigators are trying to determine how many other doctors administered it.