This Is It – Michael Jackson Manslaughter Case Kicks Off

On Day One of preliminary hearing, prosecutors begin laying out their case that Conrad Murray, the singer’s personal physician, killed the King of Pop

Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s personal physician during the last weeks of the singer’s life, sat impassively Tuesday morning in a black suit and brightly patterned tie as the District Attorney’s office began presenting its manslaughter evidence against him.

With uncharacteristic detachment, Deputy D.A. David Walgren began the hearing by outlining his case against Murray. This preliminary hearing, held before Judge Michael Pastor in downtown L.A., will determine if there’s enough evidence to send Murray (pictured right, at a previous hearing) to a criminal trial for involuntary manslaughter.

The cardiologist is accused of unlawfully causing, without malice, Jackson’s June 25, 2009 death through negligence. He faces a maximum sentence of four years in state prison if he is found guilty at trial.

The three most damning areas of negligence that Walgren laid out in the packed courtroom, which included Jackson’s mother Katherine and several other members of the famous family, were that:

1. Murray administered Jackson an IV drip of propofol, a potent anesthetic used in surgeries, to help the singer sleep – after loading him with a string of benzodiapenes.

2. Instead of calling 911 as soon as he became aware that Jackson had stopped breathing (around noon of June 25), Murray began frantically phoning members of Jackson’s security staff who weren’t even on the grounds of the star’s rented Holmby Hills mansion.

3. Murray made an incompetent attempt to revive Jackson with a “one-handed CPR” on a soft bed, all the while directing a cleanup of Jackson’s bedroom to allegedly remove any incriminating medical evidence.

Walgren, who is assisted by Deputy D.A. Deborah Brazil, told Judge Pastor that the People will call between 20 and 30 witnesses over the next seven or eight court dates.

Murray’s defense lawyer, Ed Chernoff, declined to make an opening statement; it has been speculated that Murray’s side, which includes attorney Michael Flanagan, might not call any witnesses.

Choreographer Kenneth Ortega was the day’s first witness. He testified that he and Jackson had been working at the Staples Center on Jackson’s planned “This Is It” tour.

Ortega claimed that for the most part Jackson seemed healthy, until he appeared “chilled” and withdrawn at a June 20 rehearsal. The choreographer told the courtroom that on that day Jackson decided – with Ortega’s approval – to cancel the rehearsal and return home. Ortega also said he was called on the carpet at a group meeting a few days later by Dr. Murray for making a medical judgment about Jackson’s physical and emotional health.

Under Chernoff’s cross-examination, the choreographer avoided suggestions that he had a professional stake in Jackson’s making the tour a success. Court recessed for lunch with Michael Amir Williams on the witness stand. Williams described the scenes of “chaos” and confusion in the hours following Murray’s first emergency call to Williams.

The hearing continues Tuesday and is expected to last up to two weeks.