Entertainment & Arts

Dr Conrad Murray faces jury over Michael Jackson death

Supporters of both Dr Conrad Murray and Michael Jackson gather outside of the court in Los Angeles
Image caption The high profile trial in Los Angeles has attracted supporters of both Dr Conrad Murray and Michael Jackson

More than two years after Michael Jackson's sudden death, the singer's personal physician has appeared in a Los Angeles court. Dr Conrad Murray, 58, denies involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, the maximum sentence is four years in prison.

It was a hot midsummer day in Los Angeles on 25 June, 2009. Hollywood was mourning the loss of the actress Farrah Fawcett, as fans and celebrities paid tribute to the TV star, who had died from cancer, aged 62.

But that day will be remembered for another, altogether unexpected death and for the extraordinary outpouring of grief it provoked.

Pop star Michael Jackson, a month shy of his 51st birthday, was rushed to hospital and pronounced dead, his brother Jermaine confirming the news to stunned fans in a hastily-arranged press conference.

Jackson had recently stepped back into the limelight. He was rehearsing at the Staples Centre arena in Los Angeles for This Is It, his hugely anticipated concert series, which was due to start at the O2 in London on 13 July.

The night before his death, he worked until after midnight. The next day, shortly after noon, he was discovered unconscious in his bedroom by his physician Dr Conrad Murray.

Image caption Dr Conrad Murray faces up to four years in prison if convicted

What happened in the time between those two events remains a mystery.

At a preliminary hearing, several witnesses gave detailed accounts of the frenzied activity at Jackson's home after the singer was found to be unresponsive.

The singer's death, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner, was a homicide caused by "acute Propofol intoxication." Propofol is a sedative that is normally used in hospitals to induce or maintain anaesthesia during surgical procedures.

It will be up to the jury to decide whether the actions of Dr Murray, during the frantic efforts to revive the singer and in the hours before, caused his death.

"We're finally going to get a full airing of all the facts," says Steven Cron, a legal analyst.

"In order to be guilty of a crime one has to be grossly negligent, not just minimally negligent, and that's what they're trying to prove," says Mr Cron.

Dr Murray has strongly defended himself against the charge of involuntary manslaughter. He has insisted that nothing he did should have killed Jackson.

"I think the forensic evidence is going to be really important," says Mr Cron.

"There were only two people in the room and one of them is no longer with us. The other is accused."

Media interest

The jury will hear testimony from dozens of witnesses, including some of those who were first on the scene, such as Jackson's security guards and paramedics. Experts will also be called upon to answer questions about Propofol, which will be at the heart of the case.

It has been suggested by Dr Murray's lawyers that the publicity surrounding the case could rise to the levels seen during the murder trial of the former American footballer-turned movie actor OJ Simpson in 1995.

But the judge has refused a request to have the jury sequestered, or confined to a hotel, to shield them from outside influences, as they were during the Simpson trial.

Image caption Jermaine Jackson said he is prepared for a media "circus"

Instead, Judge Michael Pastor has advised them not to "read, listen to or watch any news report or any other commentary about this case from any source" and to "keep an open mind throughout".

"I think the Conrad Murray trial will be the trial of the year [but] it will not be the trial of the century," says Linda Deutsch, a special correspondent with the Associated Press, and a veteran reporter at high profile cases in California.

While the defendant, Dr Murray, is not a celebrity, the trial will receive global attention because the alleged victim is Jackson, the superstar who is still worshipped by fans around the world.

The proceedings, like the Simpson trial, are being televised.

Media outlets from around the world set up makeshift studios near the court building. Hundreds of Jackson fans lined the street.

There will be a lottery every morning to allocate seats in the public gallery.

"The fact that it is Michael Jackson puts an entirely different profile on this case… Michael Jackson was a fascinating man and he still fascinates even in death," says Ms Deutsch.

The singer's parents and famous siblings are all expected to make an appearance at LA's Criminal Court building, taking it in turns to fill the eight seats the family has been allocated in the courtroom.

Jackson's three children will not attend the trial.

"We're ready," says his brother Jermaine Jackson, "We're always ready for whatever. We've been raised and taught to take it as it comes."

"I'll be strong. Very, very strong - because I know when the system works for you and I know when it works against you," he adds.

"I know the truth and I'm prepared for a circus."

Judge Pastor has estimated that the trial, up to the point that the jury starts its deliberations, will last for five weeks.

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