“Plea bargains are for guilty people,” Murray defense lawyer Ed Chernoff said in an interview this week with Jean Casarez, a reporter with CNN sister network In Session. “If you’re not guilty then we need to go to trial.”
Chernoff would not reveal if he plans to have Murray testify in his defense.
“Even if that had been decided, we wouldn’t be talking about evidence at trial,” Chernoff said.
The search for 18 Los Angeles County citizens qualified to sit in judgment of Murray reached the end of its first phase after a second day of jury selection Friday. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor decided the pool of potential jurors found to be able to withstand the hardship of a month-long trial is deep enough for the final phase.
They were given a questionnaire, about 30 pages long, to determine if they can put aside biases and what they’ve heard about the pop star’s death to reach a fair verdict. Lawyers will question them about their answers when they return to court September 23.
During Friday’s orientation for potential jurors, Pastor conducted a moment of silence to honor the victims of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“If we get a jury that’s willing to just go by what is being presented in court, then we have a very good shot at getting the right result in this case,” Chernoff said in his In Session interview.
Murray’s defense team failed to convince Pastor and an appeals court to shelter jurors from trial media coverage by keeping them sequestered in a hotel for the duration of the trial, expected to last about a month.
Chernoff and his team will have two weeks to study answers to the jury questionnaire to determine which potential jurors have already made up their minds about Murray’s guilt. They did this once before, but the trial was delayed over the summer.
“One of the things that we learned in the case the last go-around in the jury selection, it’s absolutely shocking how many jurors think already they know everything about this case,” Chernoff said.
The Los Angeles coroner has ruled that Michael Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, was caused by an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, combined with other drugs.
Prosecutors have accused Murray, who served as Jackson’s personal and full-time physician at the time, of having a role in the overdose.
If convicted on the involuntary manslaughter charge, Murray could face up to four years in prison.
It is his medical license, not the possible prison time, that Murray is most concerned about, Chernoff told In Session.
“Dr. Murray is a doctor,” he said. “That’s what he is.”
He holds medical licenses in California, Nevada and Texas, but a conviction would trigger a process to revoke them.
Murray wants to be able to continue serving his low-income patients in an impoverished neighborhood in Houston, Texas, Chernoff said. “This is a neighborhood that in the 1970s was still dirt roads.”
“When Dr. Murray decided he was going to open up a cardiology practice,” he said, “that was a godsend to those folks.”
Murray decided, however, in the spring of 2009 to leave that practice to become Michael Jackson’s physician as the pop star prepared for a comeback tour scheduled to start that July. His pay was to be $150,000 a month with Jackson as his only patient.
Chernoff promised that Murray’s reasons for leaving to work for Jackson “will be cleared up at trial.”
“We’re going to try to answer that question,” he said. “I don’t think he was abandoning anybody, because he was trying to make arrangements for his patients.”
Opening statements for the trial, which will be televised, are scheduled for September 27. The judge told the jury pool he expects their service will be over on or about October 28.
The last roadblock to the start of Murray’s trial came Wednesday, when a California appeals court rejected the defense’s petition for a delay so that the issue of jury sequestration could be reconsidered.
Murray’s lawyers had argued that Pastor had abused his discretion by rejecting a request that the jury be kept in a hotel for the duration of the trial.
They compared the upcoming trial to the recent coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial in Florida and said Murray could not get a fair trial if the jury was not isolated from what they expect will be non-stop media coverage.
“Petition is denied in the absence in a showing of abuse of discretion,” the brief appeals ruling said.
Meanwhile, evidence intended to prove Jackson could not have caused his own death might not be allowed in the trial, Pastor said in a hearing Wednesday.
Murray’s defense is built on the theory that Jackson drank propofol, the surgical anesthetic the coroner concluded killed him, while the doctor was away from his bedside on the morning of June 25, 2009.
Prosecutors want jurors to hear expert testimony based on a recent experiment conducted on six university students in Chile that they argue proves there is “zero possibility that the propofol was orally ingested.”
Pastor raised questions about the experiment in a hearing Wednesday.
“I need more information about the underlying data since it is not a scientific published article,” Pastor said. “I don’t know the source of the information.”
The judge will allow a prosecution expert to testify about a study on piglets conducted at a veterinary college in Norway, a report defense attorneys argued has nothing to do with how oral ingestion of propofol would affect a human being.
The study involved five piglets that “have propofol suppositories shoved up their rectums and they are watched to see if they went to sleep,” defense attorney Michael Flanagan said. “The rectum is at the other end of the (gastrointestinal) system.”
Prosecutors contend Murray used a makeshift IV drip to administer propofol intended to help Jackson sleep, a practice they argue violated the standard of care and led to the pop icon’s death.
- Plea deal never considered in Michael Jackson’s death, lawyer says (cnn.com)
- Lawyers in Michael Jackson Case Seek Appeal (socyberty.com)
- More potential jurors say they know of Michael Jackson death (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Michael Jackson’s MD faces potential jurors (cbc.ca)