by Linda Deutsch
LOS ANGELES (AP)—The scene was eerily familiar, Katherine Jackson and her family walking grimly into a courtroom, occupying a special family row, demonstrating their love for their beloved son and sibling, Michael.
|DOCTOR CHARGED— Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor, is escorted by Los Angeles County Sheriffs deputies as he arrives at the Airport Courthouse to face charges of involuntary manslaughter in the singer’s death in Los Angeles Feb. 8.
It could have been a photograph from the pop superstar’s long ago trial in Santa Maria. But the one face missing from the tableau on Monday was the most famous one—Michael Jackson, dead seven months, his premature passing the painful subject that had brought the family to court once more.
Another man sat in the defendant’s chair now—Dr. Conrad Murray, who stands accused of causing Jackson’s death.
“We need justice,” said family patriarch Joe Jackson as he left the courtroom after Murray had pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and a judge had released him on $75,000 bail.
Immediately after the hearing, Latoya Jackson issued a statement saying she believed her brother had been murdered and that others besides Murray were involved in his death.
“I will continue to fight until all of the proper individuals are brought forth and justice is served,” Latoya said. She was in court along with siblings including, Jermaine, Tito, Jackie and Randy.
Her father expressed the same views Monday night in an interview on Larry King Live and claimed that his son believed he was going to be murdered. He did not elaborate.
Outside the Los Angeles airport area courthouse, in another flash from the past, about 50 Michael Jackson fans carried large photographs of the superstar and signs urging, “Justice for Michael.” Many were the same fans who had stood vigil during the 2005 trial at which Jackson was acquitted of child molestation. Some shouted “murderer” when Murray was brought to court.
Murray, accused of giving Jackson a fatal dose of an anesthetic to help him sleep, appeared in a light gray suit and burgundy tie. The six-foot-five doctor towered above his attorneys when he stood. He barely spoke during the brief hearing and his face was expressionless. His lawyers entered his not guilty plea and he answered, “Yes sir,” when the judge asked if he understood the court’s orders.
Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz told Murray he was restricting his practice of medicine, barring him from using any anesthetic agent, specifically the drug propofol which a coroner’s report found was the cause of Jackson’s death with other drugs as contributing factors.
“I don’t want you sedating people,” the judge said.
Murray recently reopened his office in Houston after months of waiting to be charged while his bills piled up.
A representative of the state attorney general’s office said the California Medical Board would be filing a motion to revoke Murray’s medical license to practice in California while he awaits trial.
Schwartz also ordered Murray to turn in his passport and said he could travel within the United States but not to any foreign country. The prosecutor had suggested he might flee to his native Grenada or to Trinidad where he has a child.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren tried to convince the judge to impose a high bail of $300,000. He said in his motion that although Murray has no criminal record, he has violated court orders involving child support payments and “leads an irresponsible and financially unstable life.”
Murray’s lead lawyer, Ed Chernoff, objected that Murray should not be penalized for not having money. The judge said he believed $75,000‚ triple the bail in ordinary cases of this nature, would be enough to ensure he does not flee. The bail was posted shortly after the hearing and Murray was released.
He was ordered to return April 5 to have another date set for his preliminary hearing. That proceeding, a virtual mini-trial, will reveal for the first time the evidence that the prosecution believes will show Murray’s “gross negligence” was the direct cause of Jackson’s death.
Jackson, 50, hired Murray in May to be his personal physician as he prepared for a strenuous series of comeback performances.
The single felony count of involuntary manslaughter alleges that Murray “did unlawfully and without malice, kill Michael Joseph Jackson.”
To prove an involuntary manslaughter charge, prosecutors must either show that Jackson died while Murray was carrying out an unlawful act, or that his standard of care was so bad that it was grossly negligent.
The charge alleges he acted “without due caution and circumspection.”
If convicted, the doctor could face up to four years in prison.
Known as “milk of amnesia,” propofol is only supposed to be administered by an anesthesia professional in a medical setting because it depresses breathing and heart rate while lowering blood pressure.
At the same time the charge was filed Monday, the coroner’s office released its autopsy report on Jackson. The document, previously obtained by The Associated Press, found the singer was in relatively good health and died from acute propofol intoxication.
Dr. Selma Calmes, an anesthesiologist who reviewed the report at the coroner’s request, said the level of propofol in Jackson’s body was akin to what would be given for major surgery. After such a dose, a patient normally would have a tube inserted in the airway to help with breathing and be ventilated by an anesthesiologist.
“The standard of care for administering propofol was not met,” she wrote.
While the hearing drew a large contingent of reporters and camera crews from all over the world, the scene was relatively calm.
“There was a lot of media here but it’s not a media circus,” said Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson who has attended many celebrated trials.
“We still have high-profile matters in Los Angeles, but we have learned to be civilized,” she said. “Everything was controlled.”
Later, attorney Howard Wietzman issued a statement on behalf of John Branca and John McClain, administrators of Jackson’s estate. They said the hearing was a painful reminder of his passing last June 25 and added, “We believe that in years to come Michael will be remembered far more for the remarkable things he did with his life than for the tragedy of his death.”
(Associated Press Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this story.)