Nurse details Michael Jackson's fatal search for sleep - KCTV5 News

Nurse details Michael Jackson's fatal search for sleep

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 12:11 AM EDT, Thu Aug 29, 2013


  • Nurse Cherilyn Lee testifies she warned Jackson about the dangers of propofol
  • "I remember telling him that it wasn't something he wanted to use at home," Lee testifies
  • 'You don't understand, doctors are telling me it's safe," Jackson tells nurse
  • Jackson died of a propofol overdose two months after Lee refused to help him get it

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A nurse collapsed on the witness stand after describing her unsuccessful attempt to convince Michael Jackson not to use propofol to treat his insomnia.

"I can't do this anymore! I can't do this anymore," Cherilyn Lee cried at the end of Wednesday's testimony in trial to decide if concert promoter AEG Live is liable in Jackson's death. As she broke down, she was assisted by others in the courtroom including one of the lawyers.

Lee broke into tears after telling jurors that she believed people, including Jackson and her own mother, have died because they listened to bad advice from doctors who overprescribe drugs.

The certified nurse practitioner -- who specializes in holistic health care -- continues her testimony Thursday about trying to help Jackson in his desperate search for sleep in the last months of his life.

Jackson would have turned 55 on Thursday had he not died from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009.

The singer's mother and children are suing AEG Live, claiming the company that was promoting and producing his comeback tour negligently hired, retained or supervised Dr. Conrad Murray.

The company's lawyers argue Jackson chose and controlled Dr. Murray and that its executives had no way of knowing about the treatments he was giving that ultimately killed the pop icon.

Murray used propofol infusions to put Jackson to sleep each night for two months, beginning soon after Lee stopped treating the singer's insomnia with IV drips of a vitamin cocktail.

Lee began treating Jackson in his Los Angeles home on February 1, 2009 -- days after he signed a three-year contract with AEG Live for a world tour, which would start with 50 shows in London to debut in July.

"My concern was that he was drinking Red Bulls," she said. He drank several cans of the energy drink during their first meeting. "I was thinking his tiredness and fatigue was related to that."

Jackson "started to feel really great" and "looked healthier" after a month of her IV treatments of Vitamin C and other nutrients, she testified.

But he still couldn't sleep more than five hours a night and with rehearsals for his "This Is It" tour cranking up in April "he needed something a little more," she testified.

Jackson rejected her recommendation that he have a sleep specialist visit his home to study his insomnia -- or that he cut down the lights and music in his bedroom, she said.

Earlier testimony suggested that Jackson had already given up on Lee's methods and decided that propofol -- which German doctors had used to treat his insomnia during a 1997 tour -- could be his answer for rest.

Jackson and Dr. Murray tried to recruit a Las Vegas anesthesiologist to join them on the tour in late March 2009, according to Dr. David Adams' video testimony shown to jurors last week.

"I just need you to help me get my rest," Dr. Adams said Jackson told him. "They were pretty vague, but on hindsight I know what they were talking about."

Murray, not Adams, eventually took the job.

Jackson was apparently still looking for a doctor to give him the propofol when Lee visited his home the morning of April 19, 2009.

"He wasn't quite himself," she testified. "He just seemed really stressed or something. He said at certain points he was under a lot of pressure to finish rehearsals and he said 'I've got to get my sleep so I can do this.'"

Jackson told Lee he wanted her help in getting propofol infusions instead of the vitamin cocktail IVs, she said. Lee didn't know about the drug, so she looked it up in her Physician's Desk Reference manual.

"I remember telling him that it wasn't something he wanted to use at home," she said. "It wasn't a safe medication. It was definitely not a medication for insomnia."

Lee's handwritten notes from that day described their conversation: "I went as far as to say I understand you want a good night sleep -- want to be 'knocked out' -- but what if you don't wake up," she wrote. "He said 'I'll be ok. I only need someone to monitor me with equipment while I sleep.'"

Jackson "kept telling me 'You don't understand, doctors are telling me it's safe just as long as I am being monitored,'" Lee testified.

It was then that Lee collapsed on the witness stand. "It's so unfair," she cried. "I am so sick."

As Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos recessed court for the day and sent jurors out, AEG Live lawyer Sabrina Strong, who was sitting in the rear of the courtroom, ran to the witness stand to console the witness.

"That's not appropriate," Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish protested. "Lawyers don't do that. It's not appropriate for lawyers to come out of the audience in front of the jury."

"Appropriate or not, it happened," Judge Palazuelos said.

Panish argued that Strong was trying to "curry favor" with the jury by appearing compassionate. He demanded that the judge admonish her in front of the jury. The judge suggested he put his request in writing for her to consider.

Jackson's belief that propofol could help him sleep dated back to the late 1990s, according to another witness who testified Wednesday.

Dr. Catherine Quinn, a dentist who specializes in giving anesthesia during dental procedures, said Jackson asked her to infuse him with propofol in 1998.

"He told me that he has trouble sleeping," Dr. Quinn testified.

"I said that's inappropriate use of anesthesia," Quinn said. "He needs to speak with his physician about sleep aids. I told him that the sleep that you get with anesthesia is not real sleep, it's not restful sleep. He told me that it's the best sleep he ever had."

A drug addiction expert who testified Tuesday that Michael Jackson suffered a "quite extensive" drug addiction acknowledged Wednesday there was no evidence the singer used more painkillers than medically necessary.

The conclusion by Dr. Petros Levounis that Jackson was dependent on painkillers was not a revelation, considering Jackson himself announced it when he cut his "Dangerous" tour short to enter a rehab program in 1993.

"If he announced it to the world it's not very private, is it?" Jackson lawyer Michael Koskoff asked Levounis.

"At that moment, he was not secretive," Levounis replied.

Jackson's drugs of choice were opioids -- painkillers given to him by doctors repairing scalp injuries suffered in a fire and during cosmetic procedures to make him look younger, Levounis testified.

Labeling Jackson an addict could tarnish the singer's image among jurors, but its relevance to AEG Live's liability is questionable. Opioids played no role in Jackson's death, according to the Los Angeles County coroner. The judge would not allow Levounis to testify if he thought Jackson was addicted to propofol.

Levounis conceded he saw no evidence that Jackson used painkillers after he left rehab in 1993 until 2001 or between July 2003 and late 2008. He said it is not inconsistent for an addiction to go into remission.

Under cross examination Wednesday morning, Levounis conceded that he never saw evidence that Jackson injected himself with narcotics, ever sought or used illegal drugs such as cocaine, meth or heroin, or abused drugs to produce euphoria or get high.

There was also no evidence Jackson used more painkillers than doctors prescribed, he said.

Jackson lawyers have never disputed the singer's drug dependence. In fact, they contend that AEG Live executives, including one who was Jackson's tour manager when he entered rehab, were negligent for paying a doctor $150,000 a month just to treat Jackson. The high salary created a conflict for the debt-ridden Murray, making it difficult for him to say no to Jackson's demands for drugs.

Paul Gongaware, the AEG Live co-CEO who was in charge of Jackson's 2009 "This Is It" tour, was also tour manager for his "Dangerous" tour in 1993. Levounis acknowledged in testimony Wednesday that there was evidence that Gongaware knew about Jackson's painkiller addiction 15 years before his death.

Levounis' testimony about the dangers of a doctor being too friendly with an addicted patient, which he said Murray was, could help the Jacksons' case.

"A very close friendship between an addicted patient and a doctor is problematic," Levounis testified. "It makes it much easier for a patient to ask for drugs and it makes it more difficult for a provider to resist."

The medical records of Murray's treatment of Jackson between 2006 and 2008 -- when the singer lived in Las Vegas -- showed no painkillers prescribed during seven visits. Murray's notes did show he treated Jackson's complaints of insomnia with a sedative in 2008.

Wednesday was the 76th day of testimony in the trial, which is expected to conclude near the end of September.

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