LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michael Jackson’s doctor on Monday pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the sudden death of the pop star last year from a lethal cocktail of drugs.
Dr. Conrad Murray, who has offices in Houston and Las Vegas, entered a Los Angeles courthouse to chants of “murderer” from Jackson fans gathered outside. Inside the courtroom, he faced members of the “Thriller” singer’s family.
Dressed in a gray suit and red tie, Murray stood upright and spoke in a soft voice when addressing the judge.
Murray has been the focus of a police probe for months since the Los Angeles coroner’s office ruled that Jackson’s June 25 death was a homicide, due partly to the powerful anesthetic propofol which Murray admitted giving the 50-year-old singer to help him sleep.
The coroner’s report said Jackson’s death was caused by propofol and the sedative lorazepam. Painkillers, sedatives and a stimulant also were found in his body.
Authorities found bottles of propofol in Murray’s doctor’s bag and on the bedside table of Jackson’s home, according to court records unsealed last year. They also searched Murray’s offices in Las Vegas and Houston.
Prosecutors said Murray “did unlawfully, and without malice, kill Michael Joseph Jackson,” according to a statement from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.
Murray faces up to four years in prison if convicted, a sentence that some of Jackson’s followers believe is relatively light given that his actions may have led to the singer’s death.
Murray has insisted he did nothing wrong and has told investigators he was not the first doctor to give Jackson propofol, according to court records.
THE COMEBACK THAT WASN‘T
Murray, a cardiologist, was hired in May 2009 to care for Jackson while he prepared for a series of 50 comeback concerts in London aimed at reviving a career sidelined by his 2005 trial and acquittal on charges of molesting a 13-year-old boy.
The singer, dubbed the King of Pop, was a member of the legendary Motown singing group the Jackson 5 and was a hugely successful solo artist as an adult. His 1982 album “Thriller” is still the world’s best-selling album.
Jackson’s sudden cardiac arrest on the morning of June 25, which prompted a worldwide outpouring of grief, followed a late night rehearsal in Los Angeles for the planned concerts that were to have been called “This Is It.”
A documentary film, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” made from video footage of the concert rehearsals, took in nearly $260 million at worldwide box offices.
When Jackson died, he left an estate worth hundreds of millions of dollars that went into trusts benefiting his mother, three children and various charities.
Jackson’s family is said to be furious that Los Angeles police and prosecutors took months to file a criminal charge. His brother Jermaine Jackson, sister La Toya, mother Katherine and father Joe were in the courtroom on Monday.
Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte, Frances Kerry and Chris Wilson