LOS ANGELES – The doctor charged in Michael Jackson’s death is returning to court to meet the first batch of potential jurors who may eventually decide whether to convict him of involuntary manslaughter.
It will be the second time this year that a judge, prosecutors and attorneys for Dr. Conrad Murray try to pick a panel to hear the case, which is expected to last four to six weeks and will put the spotlight on the King of Pop’s final moments once again.
Roughly 160 people are expected will undergo an initial screening Thursday to see if they’re available to serve during the lengthy criminal trial. Those who are able will then fill out a 30-page questionnaire aimed at determining their level of knowledge of the case and any strong opinions about Jackson or Murray.
Getting an eligible pool of jurors took three days earlier this year, and Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor begrudgingly dismissed them in May when he agreed to delay Murray’s trial to give his attorneys more time to prepare.
This time, Pastor hopes to find 100 people to fill out the questionnaire, court spokeswoman Mary Hearn said. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will have several days to scrutinize the responses before direct questioning of potential jurors begins on Sept. 23.
Finding people who hadn’t heard about the case was a challenge last time — only one person, who didn’t speak English, expressed no knowledge of the case. Awareness of a high-profile case is not automatic grounds for disqualification from jury service, and Pastor has expressed confidence that a group can be found who will listen to the evidence impartially and also ignore widespread media coverage of the trial.
Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009 stunned the world. The singer had been in final preparations for a series of comeback concerts in London, and the focus quickly turned to Murray, his personal physician.
In an interview with detectives, Murray admitted giving Jackson the anesthetic propofol to help him sleep, but authorities and Murray’s attorneys differ on the timeline of events that occur in Jackson’s rented mansion on the day he died.
Authorities contend that Murray gave Jackson a lethal dose of propofol and other sedatives, but the doctor’s attorneys have said Murray did not give the singer anything that should have killed him. In pretrial motions and hearings they have suggested that Jackson administered the lethal dose to himself.
The Houston-based cardiologist faces up to four years and the loss of his medical license if convicted.
The case is expected to be highly-technical, but not without its share of Hollywood touches. Jackson’s family will attend the proceedings — with some members taking a break to watch a planned tribute concert in October — and prosecutors also plan to show clips of the singer shot during his final rehearsals.