Jackson’s doctor pleads not guilty to manslaughter
Bail is set 3 times higher than charge usually brings
LOS ANGELES - Michael Jackson’s personal physician pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter yesterday, setting the stage for a sensational celebrity courtroom drama as prosecutors attempt to prove Dr. Conrad Murray caused the pop star’s death.
About two hours after prosecutors filed the single felony count, Murray, who stands 6 foot 5, arrived in court to enter his plea. Jackson’s father, Joe, mother, Katherine, and siblings LaToya, Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, and Randy sat behind the prosecutors.
Superior Court Judge Keith L. Schwartz set bail at $75,000, three times higher than most people charged with involuntary manslaughter face. Prosecutors had been seeking $300,000 bail for Murray, who was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies but not handcuffed.
According to a five-page criminal complaint, Murray “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 powerful general anesthetic propofol and two other sedatives to help him sleep.
Murray could face up to four years in prison if convicted.
The judge told Murray that after he posts bail he may not leave the United States and must surrender his passport.
Murray, who was with Jackson when he died June 25 at his rented Los Angeles mansion, said he did nothing that caused the entertainer to die.
“We’ll make bail, we’ll plead not guilty, and we’ll fight like hell,’’ his lawyer, Ed Chernoff said before the charge was filed.
Jackson, 50, hired Murray to be his personal physician as he prepared for a strenuous series of comeback concerts in London.
Known as “milk of amnesia,’’ propofol is supposed to be administered only 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 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 as contributing factors.
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 specialists to determine whether his behavior fell outside the bounds of reasonable medical practice.
According to court documents, 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 nonemergency cellphone calls, police say. The nature of the calls, which lasted 47 minutes, is not known.
Murray’s lawyer has said that 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.
Murray, who has a practice in Houston, became Jackson’s physician in May. An executive of concert promoter AEG Live has said Jackson insisted Murray be hired to accompany him to London.
Before entering the courtroom, Murray had to walk past hundreds of Jackson fans, with several shouting “murderer.’’
“Looking for justice,’’ was all Jackson’s father said as he walked past the crowd and into the courthouse.