- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2010

LOS ANGELES | Michael Jackson’s fame could pose a challenge for Dr. Conrad Murray’s defense team as his lawyers fight an involuntary manslaughter charge against the physician in the singer’s death.

Citing the “popularity of Michael Jackson,” criminal defense lawyer Harland Braun, who has handled celebrity cases and defended doctors in court, said Tuesday that Dr. Murray’s defense team has a monumental job ahead.

“How would (jurors) be accepted back into the community if they acquit him?” Mr. 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,” Mr. Cron said.

Mr. Cron said Jackson’s interaction with the doctor and his alleged demands for the drug propofol are likely to come into play.

“A bad result doesn’t mean bad doctoring,” he said. “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. Dr. 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.

Dr. 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 Dr. 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 defense lawyer who is also a former state and federal prosecutor. “If the defense comes up with a doctor with spotless credentials who says this was reasonable, that could create reasonable doubt.”

Some wonder whether doctors will be willing to testify for Dr. Murray in such a controversial case, but Mr. Scott said, “There’s always an expert that can be found.”

He acknowledged that experts often demand high fees to testify and Dr. 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, Dr. Murray had yet to collect his first $150,000 monthly paycheck and the negative publicity forced him to stop practicing medicine for months while his bills piled up. Recently, he reopened his Houston office and said he would resume practicing in Las Vegas.

The California Medical Board is preparing to seek removal of Dr. Murray’s medical license in the state. If other states where he practices follow suit, his financial condition could grow even worse.

Mr. Walgren filed papers Monday saying that Dr. 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 Dr. Murray from hiring an impressive three-person legal team to represent him. In addition to Mr. 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-martialed on charges of crimes in Iraq.

Dr. Murray’s next court appearance is April 5 to schedule a preliminary hearing.

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