LOS ANGELES — In a sign of legal fallout from the Casey Anthony murder trial, a lawyer for Michael Jackson’s doctor said Wednesday his jury should be sequestered to avoid contamination by TV pundits – specifically Nancy Grace.
Attorney J. Michael Flanagan said the televised, involuntary manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray could be prejudiced by “final arguments” being delivered daily on TV by Grace and other commentators.
“How many final arguments will we have to hear in this case?” Flanagan asked.
At a pretrial hearing, the lawyer referred to “the recent case in Florida” and told the judge Murray’s trial was expected to get even wider coverage. He said telling jurors not to watch TV would be insufficient.
When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor asked if Flanagan would want jurors sequestered around the clock during the trial, the lawyer responded, “Every time Nancy Grace is on TV.”
“We would like a decision made on the evidence that appears in this courtroom rather than commentary on the Nancy Grace show,” he said.
Grace responded at the end of her show on CNN, saying “the doctor … wants the jury sequestered from me, from us, claiming watching Nancy Grace will prevent a fair trial, then the jury will be biased, so I guess that makes us the good guy.”
Pastor said the courts, with a severe budget crisis, can’t afford to put up jurors at a hotel, and he thinks it’s unnecessary. He also said it would be burdensome to jurors.
Pastor did say he would sequester the panel during the day, requiring them to eat meals together in the jury room rather than wander around the civic center.
The judge also said he would be instructing jurors not to pay attention to publicity about the trial.
Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor and Los Angeles lawyer who teaches trial advocacy at Harvard and Loyola law schools, said the Anthony acquittal may undermine the defense argument.
“In the wake of the Casey Anthony verdict, Dr. Murray’s attorneys will have an uphill battle in trying to persuade the court that any amount of media coverage will prejudice their ability to vigorously defend the case or the outcome,” said McRae.
Flanagan explained the difference between the two trials outside court.
“Casey Anthony was not a public figure before her case,” he said, noting that Jackson’s superstar status means TV stations have enormous amounts of footage of him to use during the trial – things that will not be admitted in evidence.
Murray has pleaded not guilty to causing Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, with an overdose of propofol and other sedatives.
The judge said the trial will begin on Sept. 8 with prospective jurors being given questionnaires. Opening statements are expected in late September
Meanwhile, Pastor agreed to travel across town to Sony Pictures Studios to view 16 hours of raw footage from Jackson’s rehearsal movie “This Is It,” which lawyers want to use as evidence. Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent two weeks examining more than 100 hours of video and have submitted requests for excerpts. The prosecution wants 12 hours; the defense seeks four hours of video.
Flanagan acknowledged outside court that the defense didn’t find what they had hoped for – footage of Jackson appearing ill or impaired before his death.
Asked what conclusion could be reached from viewing the Jackson rehearsals, he said, “He is very talented. Even on his bad days, he’s good.”
“We believe his health is somewhat compromised, but he’s not displaying it,” said Flanagan. He said the only implication of problems might be days when Jackson was absent from rehearsals.
He now believes that showing footage from the film is irrelevant to the trial.
“I really think it’s a big waste of time,” he said.