- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Jackson’s doctor pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the pop superstar’s death as the case moved rapidly toward a trial that will likely be televised.

“Your honor, I am an innocent man,” Dr. Conrad Murray told Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor in a soft voice. “I definitely plead not guilty.”

Lawyers for Murray, who is accused of giving Jackson a lethal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol and other sedatives, said they would be ready to go to trial within the 60-day statutory time limit, which would make for an unusually speedy trial.

Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said the prosecution would be ready to go as well for the trial he estimated would last six weeks. The judge scheduled the trial to begin March 28 and set a pretrial hearing for Feb. 7.

“Dr. Murray is looking forward to finally telling his side of the story,” defense attorney Ed Chernoff said outside court.

Conrad Murray (right), Michael Jackson's physician, and attorney Edward M. Chernoff appear in Los Angeles court Tuesday. The doctor pleaded "not guilty" to involuntary manslaughter in the pop star's June 2009 death. (Associated Press)
Conrad Murray (right), Michael Jackson’s physician, and attorney Edward M. Chernoff appear ... more >

Asked why the defense wants to begin the trial so quickly, Chernoff said, “Dr. Murray has been waiting 22 months for his opportunity to do this. It’s the first chance we have to force the issue.”

Pastor said he was inclined to allow television coverage of the trial and will hear attorneys’ views on that and other issues at a Feb. 7 hearing.

District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said outside court that her office has a policy of not opposing cameras in court. Cameras were allowed at the hearing Tuesday for the first time, marking a shift in Pastor’s previous ban.

One of Murray’s lawyers said earlier he would not seek a plea bargain, and the defense had no qualms about going to trial in spite of strong prosecution evidence at a preliminary hearing aiming to prove the doctor’s gross negligence killed Jackson.

“We’re going to go to trial,” defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan said in an interview. “I think our case is really solid. We were very pleased with the way the evidence went at the preliminary hearing… This should result in an acquittal.”

Gibbons declined to comment on whether a plea bargain had been discussed saying it would be unethical to address such a matter.

Defense attorneys not connected to the case said Murray would be well advised to plea bargain.

“If I were advising him, I would be talking to the district attorney to see what they would be willing to accept,” said criminal defense attorney Steve Cron. An offer of probation with community service and temporary suspension of Murray’s medical license would be worth considering if it were proposed, he said.

Pastor has suspended Murray’s license to practice in California pending trial.

Legal experts said several defenses are available to Murray. Among them is the suggestion by his lawyers that Jackson, desperate for sleep, self-administered a fatal dose of propofol while Murray was out of the room. That theory would mean Jackson either injected propofol into an IV line or swallowed the drug, which is meant to be administered intravenously during surgery.

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