LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michael Jackson’s personal physician declared “I am an innocent man” as he pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday, two weeks after he was ordered to stand trial for his role in the pop star’s 2009 death.
The judge presiding over the case against Dr. Conrad Murray also set a trial date for March 28 and scheduled a hearing for February 7 on a number of procedural issues, including a possible decision on whether television coverage of the trial will be allowed.
The 57-year-old cardiologist, who had his license to practice medicine suspended as a condition for his bail, faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
Murray was with the pop singer when he died at age 50 at a rented Los Angeles home on June 25, 2009, from what coroners ruled was an overdose of the powerful anesthetic propofol and a cocktail of sedatives.
The doctor was ordered to stand trial earlier this month after a six-day preliminary hearing in which witnesses testified that Murray was slow to call for help on the morning of Jackson’s death, and that he tried to hide evidence of propofol in the singer’s bedroom.
Defense lawyers have suggested that the “Thriller” singer may have injected himself with the fatal dose of propofol, which he was using as sleep aid while rehearsing for a series of planned comeback concerts in London.
Involuntary manslaughter, to which Murray pleaded not guilty, is defined as unintentional killing without malice and is a lesser charge than murder.
“Your honor, I am an innocent man. I therefore plead not guilty,” Murray told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor.
Lawyers told the judge the trial could last four to eight weeks.
Although Murray was ordered to be in court when jury selection is due to begin on March 28, he is excused from attending the February 7 pretrial hearing unless he wishes to be present.
“Dr. Murray still has a medical license in Texas and Nevada, and he’s going to keep treating patients until that changes,” his lawyer Ed Chernoff said.
Chernoff told reporters that Murray looks forward to presenting his side of the story but said his legal team has not decided whether the doctor will testify in his own defense.
Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Will Dunham