Nurse details Michael Jackson’s fatal search for sleep

Story highlights

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 who tried to help Michael Jackson find sleep with vitamin infusions said the singer became convinced that propofol was the only cure for his insomnia.

Cherilyn Lee – who specializes in holistic health care – was called as a witness by AEG Live in its defense of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jackson’s mother and children. But Jackson lawyers said they believe her testimony helped their case.

When she was shown a photo of Jackson six days before his death – two months after she had last treated him – she appeared shocked at his deterioration.

“Oh, my goodness,” Lee said. “That’s horrible!”

Lee testified Thursday that after Jackson awoke after just four hours of sleep after one of her treatments on April 19, 2009, he became “very agitated.”

“He stood up on the bed and he looked at me and at 4:30 in the morning, it kind of scared me,” Lee said. “It really startled me when he stared at me with his big brown eyes.”

“I told you I cannot sleep all night,” Lee said Jackson told her.

AEG expert: Jackson was a drug addict

Jackson allegedly asked Lee, who had been treating him with vitamins since early February, to find an anesthesiologist who could put him to sleep him with the surgical anesthetic propofol.

Lee refused, warning him it was unsafe. She testified that she told Jackson that any doctor who would give him propofol at home didn’t care about him and was just doing it for the money.

That April 19, 2009, session was Lee’s last time with Jackson.

Just over two weeks later – on May 6 – an AEG Live executive wrote in an e-mail that it was a “done deal” that Dr. Conrad Murray was being hired for $150,000 a month to serve as Jackson’s full-time physician.

Murray told investigators that Jackson was infused with propofol every night for two months to treat his insomnia. The last treatment killed the singer, according to the coroner.

Jackson’s mother and three children are suing AEG Live, contending the concert promoter is liable for his death because it negligently hired, retained or supervised Murray.

AEG Live lawyers contend it was Jackson who chose and controlled Murray and their executives had no way of knowing about the dangerous treatments being given in the privacy of Jackson’s bedroom.

Lee’s testimony concluded the 18th week of the wrongful death trial, which will continue into September.

She had glowing words for Jackson, who would have turned 55 on Thursday. “I haven’t really met anyone who was so caring and so giving,” she said.

“After his passing, a young lady walked up to me at an event and she just stared crying,” Lee said. “She said, ‘I wouldn’t be here today if Michael hadn’t come to the hospital and paid for my brain surgeries and he didn’t want anyone to know.’”

Although called as a witness by AEG Live, Lee attacked their lawyers’ contention that Jackson was “doctor shopping” for drugs. “All he was doing was looking for the best doctor to help with his insomnia,” Lee said. “It just breaks my heart for people to label someone as doctor shopping when they’re only trying to find the best doctor to give them the best care.”

Jackson hired Lee to find natural treatments for his insomnia, she said. She 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.”

“He told me whatever you tell me I need to do, I will do it.” He stopped drinking cases of Red Bull, replacing the energy drinks with fresh organic juices, she said.

Jackson “started to feel really great” and “looked healthier” after a month of her IV treatments “Myers Cocktails,” an infusion 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 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,” Adams said Jackson told him. “They were pretty vague, but on hindsight I know what they were talking about.”

By April 19, Jackson “wasn’t quite himself,” Lee 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.’”

When Jackson told Lee he wanted her help in getting propofol infusions instead of the vitamin cocktail IVs, she researched the drug in her Physicians’ 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.

Lee collapsed on the witness stand Wednesday after describing her unsuccessful attempt to convince Jackson not to use propofol. “It’s so unfair,” she cried. “I am so sick.”

“I can’t do this anymore! I can’t do this anymore,” Lee cried.

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,” 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,” 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.”

AEG Live expert: MJ was an addict

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.

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“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.