LOS ANGELES — A judge has ordered Michael Jackson's personal doctor to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly killing the singer with an overdose of powerful sedatives.
Conrad Murray, who claims he was just treating the pop icon for insomnia when he died in June 2009, also had his license to practice medicine in California suspended.
The cardiologist will be arraigned on January 25, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled after six days of hearings that included evidence that Murray tried to cover up having given Jackson an overdose of the drug propofol.
Judge Michael Pastor said testimony presented in court convinced him that to let the doctor keep his medical license "would constitute an imminent danger to public safety."
Jackson's death shocked the entertainment world and triggered intense debate over the performer's health in the run-up to London concerts, known as the "This is It" tour.
Murray could face up to four years in jail and permanently lose his doctor's license if the case goes to full trial and he is convicted.
His defense team has suggested that Jackson could have effectively killed himself by administering an extra dose of propofol while Murray was out of the room.
Prosecutors allege that Murray, 57, "abandoned his patient" after administering the propofol some time between 10:40 am and 11:00 am to help Jackson sleep, and then tried to cover it up after the singer's death.
Tuesday's widely-expected ruling came shortly after a forensic expert testified that Jackson's death was a homicide, saying the singer was in generally good health when he died on June 25, 2009 at his Los Angeles mansion.
Christopher Rogers, head of forensic medicine for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said the star died of acute intoxication with propofol, which is usually used as an anesthetic in hospital settings.
He said he would describe Jackson's death as a homicide even if, as claimed by Murray, the singer had himself administered an extra dose of propofol while the doctor was out of the room.
"Based on the quality of the medical care, I would still call this a homicide, even if the doctor did not provide the propofol to Mr Jackson," he said during the second week of the pre-trial hearings.
Last week the court heard from a series of witnesses who testified that Murray delayed calling 911, tried to conceal what drugs he had administered, and did not know how to carry out emergency resuscitation.
Paramedic Martin Blount said that when he arrived Jackson seemed to have been dead for at least 20 minutes, despite Murray's claim that he had stopped breathing a minute before they were called.
On Friday investigator Elissa Fleak said she found 12 vials of propofol in Jackson's house after he died, while a pharmacist testified Monday that he supplied 255 vials of the drug to Murray in the two months before the death.
Also Monday, a detective who interviewed Murray two days after Jackson's death said the doctor admitted having administered a 25-milligram propofol dose and then monitored the singer for a while after he fell asleep at 11 am.
Murray said he then went out to the bathroom for two minutes, and was shocked when he returned to find Jackson not breathing, said detective Orlando Martinez.
"I remember Dr. Murray saying he believed it had just happened because he was only gone for a few minutes," Martinez said Monday.
Various members of Jackson's family have been attending the pre-trial hearings. On Tuesday they included sisters Janet and LaToya and brother Randy.
"I'm happy so far," LaToya told reporters as she made her way to her car after the judge's ruling.
A lawyer for the late singer's executors added in a statement that the ruling was "perfectly appropriate given the testimony in this case."