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Michael Jackson's Doctor Pleads Not Guilty

Monday, 08 Feb 2010 07:16 PM

 

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Michael Jackson's doctor pleaded not guilty Monday to involuntary manslaughter in the death of the pop star at a brief hearing that had all the trappings of another sensational celebrity courtroom drama.

Dr. Conrad Murray appeared in court in a gray suit as Jackson's father Joe, mother Katherine, and siblings LaToya, Jermaine, Tito, Jackie and Randy watched from courtroom seats behind prosecutors.

Neither Murray nor the Jacksons showed much emotion as Murray entered his plea through his attorney Ed Chernoff.

"We need justice," Joe Jackson said outside court before leaving with family members in a fleet of Cadillac Escalades.

Earlier, several people shouted "murderer" as Murray walked past a crowd of hundreds of reporters and Jackson fans on his way to a courthouse adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport.

Murray, 56, a Houston cardiologist who was with Jackson when he died June 25, entered his plea just hours after he was charged.

Superior Court Judge Keith L. Schwartz set bail at $75,000, three times more than the amount most people face after being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors had been seeking $300,000 bail for Murray, who was taken into custody by deputies but not handcuffed in public. He was expected to be released later in the day.

The judge told Murray he could travel throughout the United States after posting bail but must surrender his passport and not leave the country.

It appeared authorities were taking extra steps to ensure the arraignment did not become a media circus.

Lines were formed to gain admission to the courtroom, and the Jackson family was escorted in separately and seated before anyone else arrived.

Despite the precautions, the upcoming proceedings promise to be the focus of widespread attention.

Jackson, 50, hired Murray in May to be his personal physician as he prepared for a strenuous series of comeback performances.

Officials said the singer died in Los Angeles after Murray administered the powerful general anesthetic propofol and two other sedatives to get the chronic insomniac to sleep.

Murray is accused of the single felony count in a five-page complaint that said he "did unlawfully, and without malice, kill Michael Joseph Jackson" by acting "without due caution and circumspection."

The complaint contains no details on Jackson's death, but authorities have said the singer died after Murray administered the anesthetic and other drugs. Murray has said he did nothing that should have caused Jackson to die.

If convicted, the doctor could face up to four years in prison.

"We'll make bail, we'll plead not guilty and we'll fight like hell," Chernoff said before the charge was filed.

Known as "milk of amnesia," propofol is only supposed to be administered by an anesthesia professional in a medical setting because it depresses breathing and heart rate while lowering blood pressure.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists warned in 2004 that a doctor using propofol should have education and training to manage anesthesia complications, be physically present throughout sedation and monitor patients "without interruption" for signs of trouble. Rescue equipment "must be immediately available," it said.

Los Angeles investigators were methodical in building a case against Murray, wary of repeating missteps that have plagued some other high-profile celebrity cases, most notably against O.J. Simpson and actor Robert Blake, both of whom were acquitted of murder.

After reviewing toxicology findings, the coroner ruled Jackson's death a homicide caused by acute intoxication of propofol, with other sedatives a contributing factor.

Murray appears to have obtained the drug legally and its use is not in itself a crime. To show the doctor was negligent in his care, detectives spoke to more than 10 medical experts to see if his behavior fell outside the bounds of reasonable medical practice.

Court documents state Murray told police he administered propofol just before 11 a.m. then stepped out of the room to go to the bathroom.

There is some dispute about what happened next. According to court filings, Murray told police that upon his return from the bathroom, he saw Jackson was not breathing and began trying to revive him.

But an ambulance was not called until 12:21 p.m. and Murray spent much of the intervening time making non-emergency cell phone calls, police say. The nature of the calls, which lasted 47 minutes, is not known.

Murray's lawyer has said investigators got confused about what Murray had told them, and that the doctor found his patient unresponsive around noon.

A large number of witnesses have been interviewed by police, including those who were present during Jackson's last days, those who worked with him in preparation for his series of comeback concerts, "This Is It," and members of his personal entourage, including his security guard and personal assistant.

The comeback concerts sold out in anticipation of Jackson's return as the "King of Pop" after years of odd behavior, trial and acquittal on molestation charges and self-imposed isolation that overshadowed a lifetime in music that reached superstardom with the 1982 album "Thriller" and such hits as "Beat It" and "Billie Jean."

At the time of his death, Jackson was in relatively good health and had no illegal drugs in his system, according to the autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press. Jackson had a strong heart and his kidneys and most other major organs were normal, according to the autopsy.

Jackson's most serious problem was a chronic inflammation of the lungs that reduced capacity and may have left him short of breath. But the autopsy said it would not have been a direct or contributing cause of death.

Legal experts said the autopsy findings bolstered the case for prosecution and would block a potential defense that Jackson hid serious conditions that increased risk of death from drugs he willingly took.

——

Associated Press Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this story.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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