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Friday, September 16, 2011

Plea deal never considered in Michael Jackson's death, lawyer says


Los Angeles (CNN) -- Dr. Conrad Murray never considered a plea deal to resolve the involuntary manslaughter charge against him in the 
death of Michael Jackson, his lawyer said.
"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.

Judge denies Conrad Murray's request to sequester jury

Los Angeles  -- A Los Angeles County judge on Thursday denied the defense's request to sequester the jury for the coming trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician accused in Michael Jackson's death.
Lawyers for the doctor -- who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the singer's death -- had contended that media hype surrounding the case meant it was prudent to isolate the jury during the trial.
But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor disagreed, saying he did not want jurors to feel like "inmates," supervised even when they contacted loved ones. And he expressed confidence that they would heed warnings to avoid exposure to media coverage.
"I do not find sequestration to be the answer in this case," he said.
In addition, Pastor rejected a defense request that television cameras be removed from the courtroom during certain parts of the trial.
The Los Angeles coroner has ruled that Jackson's death, which occurred June 25, 2009, was caused by an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, combined with other drugs.
Prosecutors have accused Murray, one of the pop star's doctors, of having a role in the overdose. Jury selection is set to begin next month in his trial. Opening statements are set for September 27. Both the defense and prosecution told the judge they expect the trial to last four to five weeks, while Pastor indicated he thought it could be done in less time.
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Murray's attorneys, Nareg Gourjian and Edward Chernoff, had contended, in court papers, that "there is reasonable expectation that Dr. Murray's trial will be the most publicized in history."
They argued that the jury should be sequestered to ensure Murray receives a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment.
"This is an unusual trial," the attorneys said. "Without question, Michael Jackson is one of the most well-known figures in the world. His death, memorial service and every court appearance thereafter involving Dr. Murray has attracted unprecedented media coverage."
Prosecutors didn't file court papers in response to Murray's motion, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles district attorney's office. Rather, Deputy District Attorney David Walgren argued in open court Thursday that confining the jury to a hotel was unnecessary and would make the jurors "essentially inmates."
There should be "a level of trust granted for jurors," said Walgren.
During an unsuccessful attempt at jury selection earlier this year, only one potential juror out of several hundred questioned claimed to have heard nothing about the Murray case, and that potential juror, a woman, couldn't speak English, Murray's lawyers said.
At the time, attorneys didn't consider sequestering the jury. "Then along came Casey Anthony," Murray's attorneys said, citing the murder case as the impetus for their motion. Anthony was acquitted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, but was convicted of four misdemeanor counts of lying to law enforcement.
The case, and the sensationalized media coverage around it, "demonstrated the danger that is created to a fair trial when basic information is managed for the purpose of entertainment and television ratings," Murray's attorneys had said.
The attorneys singled out HLN television host Nancy Grace for "character assassination" against Anthony and "virtually nonstop on-air abuse of not only the defendant but of the jurors and defense attorneys involved."
All news organizations, including ABC News, Fox and InSession, benefited from the Anthony trial, Murray's attorneys said in court records. But some, such as HLN, "cleaned up": That network "drew its biggest total audience in its 29-year history with more than 5 million viewers," Murray's attorneys said.
Turner Broadcasting -- a division of Time Warner -- operates HLN, InSession and CNN, the attorneys pointed out in court papers.
Though there was no suggestion that HLN or CNN staffers tried to interview jurors during that trial, the judge warned media outlets to avoid contacting jurors during this trial.
"That (media) organization proceeds at their own risk if that person or organization interferes with the process of justice," Pastor said.
Still, he said he believes that strongly admonishing jurors to avoid media related to the trial will be effective.
He also addressed a defense contention that sequestering the jury could be considered cost-effective, if it might save the added the cost caused by a retrial.
Sequestering the jury would cost $500,000, but the judge -- while acknowledging that "the state of California is undergoing severe financial problems," as is its court system -- insisted cost didn't play a role in his decision.
"While I raise the issue of cost, that is not an overriding factor," Pastor said. "Justice trumps everything."
Chernoff, one of Murray's attorneys, asked the judge to modify his earlier ruling allowing cameras into the courtroom during the trial. Chernoff asked the judge to remove the camera when certain testimony arises during the trial and argued that some TV commentators act like "quasi-jurors."
The judge rejected that request, citing First Amendment freedoms.
"Yes, there will be talking heads" commenting about the trial, the judge said.
Then the judge added: "Frequently, talking heads are talking through other body parts than their heads."
The next hearing is Monday at 1:30 p.m. PT on a prosecution motion to exclude or limit testimony by 26 defense witnesses.
Legal experts and defense attorneys not related to the Murray case offered differing opinions to CNN on the efficacy of sequestering a jury.
"The defense wants to sequester the jury because it has seen that sequestered juries vote not guilty," said Marcia Clark, the former prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial, another heavily publicized case in which the jury was sequestered. "I don't really think there's any need to sequester the jury. To the extent that people know about this case, know about Michael Jackson or Conrad Murray, it's over. It's already been done. It'd be like closing the barn doors after the horse is out."
Ellyn Garofalo, the attorney who represented Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, who was acquitted on charges of conspiring to keep Anna Nicole Smith addicted to prescription drugs, said that the usefulness of sequestering a jury "is a really tough question."
"I think there is good reason to sequester a jury," Garofalo said. "I also tend to think -- and this is more of a personal opinion -- that a sequestered jury is not a happy jury and may be more anxious to get through the testimony than a jury that is not sequestered."
Richard Gabriel, a jury consultant on the Simpson and Casey Anthony cases, said sequestering a jury is stressful and expensive.
"The difficulty is, I don't think a judge has ever gone as far to say during this trial, please do not use the Internet, period. Just like they say, don't watch television during the trial, they say if you see something about the case, please ignore that news item," Gabriel said.
"As a practical matter I think it (would) be difficult" to sequester the jury, "partly because the county of Los Angeles has no money to do that. It is very, very expensive," Gabriel said. "It puts a pretty big strain on a jury because you are taking them out of a familiar setting and you are putting them into obviously a highly pressurized setting that basically says you are in this trial 24-7 for the length of the trial."

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