Week two of the Conrad Murray trial gets underway Monday morning, and the doctor has already taken quite a pummeling.
With prosecutors effectively laying out their case in week one, the defense faces an uphill battle.
Last week, lead defense attorney Ed Chernoff (below) revealed his team's strategy — to show that it wasn't just the Propofol administered by Murray that killed Jackson, it was an additional dose that the singer took himself.
"That's a tough way to go," said former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson, now director of the Center for Ethical Advocacy at Loyola Law School. "To say that Michael self-ingested additional drugs [and] killed himself? Most people think that isn’t very plausible. But we’ll have to wait and see how they present it.”
Meanwhile, Levenson felt the prosecution revealed a very winnable case:
In week one, Jackson loyalists like Kenny Ortega and the singer’s intimate staff set the scene of a medically neglected superstar. And paramedics and an ER doctor illuminated those last sad, strange moments as Jackson lay moribund, while the seemingly hapless Murray busied himself gathering damning vials and dispensing false information.
Levenson found deputy district attorney David Walgren’s (below right) opening statement to the jury to exemplify that “he’s an extremely talented prosecutor.”
And certainly, week one of the trial was extremely action-packed.
We still have almost a full month of court sessions to watch (they're scheduled to end October 28). And as tragic as the circumstances are, and as important as our due process is, the entire affair carries the sordid smack of infotainment.
On Friday around midday, after a colleague of lead defense attorney Ed Chernoff appeared on NBC’s "Today" show, Judge Michael Pastor issued a gag order forbidding all the attorneys in the trial from discussing the case publicly.
Chernoff protested that his talkative colleague, Michael Alford, is a member of his law firm but not one of the principal members of his team.
Nonetheless, Pastor — who a day earlier had warned attorneys to be cautious with their statements — not only slapped on the gag order, he also ordered Alford to come into court to face possible contempt charges.
It was the capper to a week that already saw a good deal of dramatic revelations. Now, onto week No. 2.
“I think we’re going to soon get into the battle of experts,” Levenson said. “And we’ll hear about the dangers and the proper handling of Propofol from the prosecution’s side.”
The roster of witnesses slated to appear for the prosecution enforces this expectation — set to appear are Los Angeles County Coroner’s senior criminalist Jaime Lintemoot, a pharmacist named Tim Lopez from whom Murray purchased several drugs, including Propofol, and Dr. Richard Ruffalo, an expert anesthesiologist and clinical pharmacologist.
Levenson says the table has been thoroughly set for that sort of presentation, given that the prosecutors “had the evidence about Murray having people collect the vials. What they have to get into now is Propofol and how it’s supposed to be handled — and how [Murray’s procedures] fell far below the standard of care, how this was extreme neglect.”
And while she felt it’s too early to fully assess Murray defense attorney Ed Chernoff on the basis of an opening statement and some cross-examinations, Levenson sees in him certain virtues: “He’s very earnest, very committed to the case. I don’t think his opening statement was as smooth as the prosecutor’s — he seemed to bounce back and forth.”
In star-oriented Los Angeles, Chernoff’s creditable record and humble Texas roots may not carry the punch needed.
“He comes across as confident,” Levenson said. “But not as one of the big names people turn to — he’s not a Johnny Cochran, a Mark Geragos, a Tom Mesereau. I don’t think he’s even in that league.”
Chernoff’s co-counsel Michel Flanagan attributes his taking on the case for no fee as a career move, as he told the Los Angeles Times: "He's going to win this case, and it's going to set up his career for the rest of his life."
Also siting beside Murray at the defense table is strategist Nareg Gourjian, who was co-counsel to Geragos on such high-profile cases as singer Chris Brown’s assault charges.
Some observers feel the folksy Chernoff, who at one stage promised a portrayal of Murray’s good works that would make the jurors “glad to be alive,” will be credible to a racially mixed group of seven men and five women that’s largely middle class.
If Chernoff hints at a pattern of drugging on Jackson’s part — which will be difficult given Judge Pastor’s prohibition against testimony on that score — he’ll need to consider the jury questionnaires that were leaked by TMZ last week. Several of the jurors revealed that they had personal experience in dealing with substance abuse issues.
To boost Murray, it seems, Chernoff will need to carefully dismantle the sympathy for Jackson.
“That’s a really dangerous way to go,” Levenson said, not that she sees the defense as having much choice. “If you look at the facts of this case, there’s not a lot of directions you can go with the defense. He’s building the story that Michael was so desperate to rebuild his career that he was willing to do desperate things.”
On the other hand, Levenson added, "The prosecution did a great job in its opening statements of laying out what their case is going to be. They started out with people close to Jackson to build a sympathetic picture of how tragic this was.
They were also showing that people close to Jackson were concerned about him — and it didn’t appear that Murray, the person hired to do that, cared."