When members of three law-enforcement agencies made a surprise search of the Houston medical practice of Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray on July 22, it marked a dramatic turn in the inquiry into the pop star's death: the first official mention of a possible manslaughter investigation.
A combined force of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency along with two robbery-homicide detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department and Houston Police officers conducted a three-hour search of Murray's office after producing a search warrant, DEA officials and Murray's lawyer confirmed.
"The search warrant authorized law enforcement to search for and seize items, including documents, they believed constituted evidence of the offense of manslaughter," Murray's lawyer Ed Chernoff said in a statement. The officers left with images of a business-computer hard drive and 21 documents, according to Chernoff. "None of the documents taken had previously been requested by law enforcement or the L.A. Coroner's office," he said in the statement.
National news stations like CNN flashed scenes of police standing outside Murray's Armstrong Medical Clinic. But DEA officials took pains to avoid using the word raid.
"This was not a raid," says DEA special agent and media spokeswoman Violet Szeleczky. "At 10:15 we knocked on the door of the clinic, went in and said we had a search warrant for the premises. They cooperated fully."
A spokesperson for Chernoff's office says Murray was not in the office but in Nevada. Murray has another practice in Las Vegas. According to Szeleczky, the search included members of DEA's tactical-diversion unit, which looks into "doctors' and pharmacists' use of controlled prescription drugs." She declined to comment on persistent media reports that agents were focusing on the powerful anesthetic Propofol, which has been widely linked to Jackson's final days.
Police have officially declined to speak about the direction of the investigation while awaiting an eagerly anticipated toxicology report. "We are still awaiting corroboration from the coroner's office as to cause of death. That is going to be very dependent on the toxicology reports that are due to come back," L.A. Police Chief William Bratton recently told CNN. "And based on those, we will have an idea of what it is we are dealing [with]: are we dealing with a homicide or are we dealing with accidental overdose?"
Although there has been much speculation concerning the release of the report, coroner spokespersons have maintained that the results have always been expected four to six weeks following the singer's June 25 death.
Brian Oxman, attorney and former Jackson spokesman, says investigators are moving appropriately meticulously in this high-profile environment. "This is a long process," he says. "No one is going to cut any corners on this." He says he has spoken to Jackson family members who are "following this closely. They are eager but satisfied so far." As far as the look into Murray's office, Oxman says he believes the DEA was searching for something specific and "significant. This was not a fishing expedition."
"A big spotlight is on Dr. Murray," Oxman says. "But it's not the only spotlight we're going to see."
Murray's lawyer says the doctor, who was with Jackson at the time of his death, has cooperated fully with investigators and that a criminal investigation is being pushed by anger over the megastar's death. "Based on Dr. Murray's minute-by-minute and item-by-item description of Michael Jackson's last days, he should not be a target of criminal charges," Chernoff said in a statement. "Dr. Murray was the last doctor standing when Michael Jackson died, and it seems all the fury is directed toward him. Dr. Murray is frustrated by negative and often erroneous media reports."