In Jackson case, singers popularity a challenge for defence team

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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LOS ANGELES - Michael Jackson's fame could pose a challenge for Dr. Conrad Murray's defence team, as his lawyers fight an involuntary manslaughter charge against the physician in the singer's death.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman said Wednesday that Murray was preparing to resume his medical practice in Nevada, while awaiting his court appearances in Los Angeles. Miranda Sevcik said he was in Las Vegas making plans to work from another physician's office.
Sevcik didn't identify the other doctor and said Murray was concerned about his patients' privacy. Murray closed Global Cardiology Associates and moved out of a Las Vegas office building in August. He resumed his practice in Houston in November.
Murray pleaded not guilty Monday to involuntary manslaughter and is free on bail pending an April 5 evidentiary hearing. He is accused of giving Jackson a fatal dose of an anesthetic to help him sleep before he died June 25.
Citing the "popularity of Michael Jackson," criminal defence lawyer Harland Braun, who has handled celebrity cases and defended doctors in court, said Tuesday that Murray's defence team has a monumental job ahead.
"How would (jurors) be accepted back into the community if they acquit him?" Braun said. "It's a tough case."
Attorney Steve Cron, who also has handled medical cases, said the attorneys are being confronted this week with a mountain of evidence amassed by the Los Angeles Police Department during their nearly eight-month investigation.
"I would safely say there are tens of thousands of pages of reports as well as CDs, videos, phone records and photographs. "They will be looking at all of Michael Jackson's medical records, search warrant affidavits and reports on every person who was interviewed," Cron said.
Cron said Jackson's interaction with the doctor and his alleged demands for the drug propofol is likely to come into play.
"A bad result doesn't mean bad doctoring," said Cron. "They will find an expert who will say he had a difficult, demanding patient who needed to sleep and he did what was reasonable."
Jackson died at the age of 50 on June 25 in his rented Bel Air mansion. Murray, a Caribbean born physician who had been hired by the superstar to look after his health during a rigorous comeback tour, told police he gave Jackson propofol and other sedatives to help him sleep.
Murray's lead counsel, Ed Chernoff, has said that nothing the doctor gave Jackson should have killed him.
A coroner's report found that the singer died of acute propofol intoxication.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren, who charged Murray with involuntary manslaughter, will seek to prove he acted with "gross negligence" when he gave the singer propofol. The anesthetic is used in hospital situations for surgery and prosecution experts are expected to say it was reckless to use it in a private home without proper equipment.
"It will probably be a battle of the experts,"said McGregor Scott, a Sacramento criminal defence lawyer who is also a former state and federal prosecutor. "If the defence comes up with a doctor with spotless credentials who says this was reasonable, that could create reasonable doubt."
Some wonder if doctors will be willing to testify for Murray in such a controversial case, but Scott said, "There's always an expert that can be found."
He acknowledged that experts often demand high fees to testify and Murray has been known to have financial troubles which led him to sign up as Jackson's doctor in the first place. When Jackson died, Murray had yet to collect his first $150,000 monthly paycheque and the negative publicity forced him to stop practising medicine for months while his bills piled up. Recently, he reopened his Houston office and said he would resume practising in Las Vegas.
The California Medical Board is preparing to seek removal of Murray's medical licence in the state. If other states where he practices follow suit, his financial condition could grow even worse.
Walgren, filed papers Monday saying that Murray "leads an irresponsible and financially unstable life" and "has been the subject of multiple liens, defaults and evictions."
If true, it has not stopped Murray from hiring an impressive three-person legal team to represent him. In addition to Chernoff, his lawyers are J. Michael Flanagan, who once defended a nurse on propofol-related charges, and Joseph Low who represented two Marines who were court-martialled on charges of crimes in Iraq.
Murray's next court appearance is April 5 to schedule a preliminary hearing.

Organizations: California Medical Board, Global Cardiology Associates, Los Angeles Police Department

Geographic location: Las Vegas, LOS ANGELES, Nevada Bel Air Caribbean Sacramento Houston Iraq

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