LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The judge in the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor issued a sharply worded gag order for attorneys on Friday and ordered one of them to return for a possible contempt hearing after he appeared on a TV show telling details about the case.
Judge Michael Pastor’s order came at midday on Friday, the fourth day of the widely watched trial in which prosecutors are trying to prove Dr. Conrad Murray was responsible for the drug overdose that caused the pop star’s death on June 25, 2009.
Prosecutors brought to the courtroom paramedics who responded to a call for help on that day, as well as other witnesses, to try to prove Murray was negligent in his care and covered up Jackson’s use of the anesthetic propofol, which was the principal cause of Jackson’s death.
But the day’s bombshell came with Pastor’s gag order, which followed an appearance by defense attorney Matthew Alford on NBC’s morning talk show “Today.”
“The attorneys for the parties in this case ... are ordered not to comment to anyone outside of their respective teams either directly or indirectly regarding any aspects of this case, whether orally or in writing,” Pastor said in court.
Alford said on “Today” that one witness had changed his testimony several times. He also declared that Jackson was addicted to propofol. That raised the ire of Pastor, who a day earlier instructed attorneys to rein in their comments to the media. On Friday, Pastor told defense attorneys he found the “Today” show appearance “shocking,” according to a court transcript.
Murray’s defense lawyer, Ed Chernoff, argued that even though Alford was part of his law firm, he was not directly a member of Murray’s defense team and was speaking as a private citizen. Pastor did not seem to accept that argument and ordered Alford to return to his court for a later hearing on possible contempt proceedings.
Also in Friday’s testimony, paramedics who rushed to the singer’s bedside told jurors they were initially optimistic he might live because they arrived within five minutes of being called. But they soon saw Jackson was unresponsive.
“I knew that we got there very, very quickly. It meant we’d have a good chance of restarting the heart if that was the issue,” said paramedic Richard Senneff.
But Senneff said he quickly realized Jackson had been down for more than five minutes. “His skin was very cool to the touch,” Senneff said. “When I took a first glance at him, his eyes, they were open and his pupils were dilated. When I hooked up the EKG machine, it was flatlined.”
Murray admits administering propofol but denies involuntary manslaughter. His lawyers have argued that Jackson caused his own death by giving himself an extra dose of propofol, mixed with prescription sedatives, without Murray’s knowledge.
In trying to prove Murray’s negligence, prosecutors have spent much of this first week creating a timeline between when Jackson stopped breathing and Murray called for help. During those precious minutes, prosecutors claim Murray was trying to cover up evidence of Jackson’s use of the anesthetic propofol, which ultimately caused the singer’s death.
The first call for help was received at 12:22 p.m., paramedics arrived at 12:26 p.m. and made it to Jackson’s bedroom a minute later, working feverishly to revive Jackson.
Senneff testified he was on the phone with doctors at a nearby hospital and they recommended at 12:57 p.m. that Jackson be declared dead. Murray demanded that Jackson be taken to the hospital for further treatment.
The singer was pronounced dead later that day at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angles.
Jurors earlier heard a voicemail Murray left for one of his heart patients at 11:49 a.m. the day of Jackson’s death — seven minutes before he is believed to have found the singer unresponsive in his bedroom.
Prosecutors seek to prove Murray failed to monitor Jackson properly after giving him a dose of propofol. They claim that instead of watching Jackson in the singer’s bedroom, Murray was busy on his cell phone before discovering around 11:56 a.m. that the “Thriller” singer had stopped breathing.
Murray faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Peter Cooney