Michael Jackson's personal physician declared himself "innocent" in the singer's death Tuesday during a Los Angeles County Superior Court appearance in which he also demanded that his trial begin quickly.
Asked how he pleaded to a charge of involuntary manslaughter, the sole count to be decided at the trial now set for March 28, Dr. Conrad Murray paused and then said, "Your honor, I am an innocent man — "
"What's your plea?" Judge Michael Pastor interrupted.
"Therefore, I plead not guilty," Murray said.
Murray's decision to invoke his right to a speedy trial, meaning the case must get underway within 60 business days, surprised many in the court, including the judge. Pastor remarked on its rarity in the busy downtown courthouse where cases often take years to proceed to trial.
A defense lawyer said outside court that Murray's decision was prompted by the looming prospect of losing his remaining medical licenses and ability to earn money. Pastor stripped Murray of his California license two weeks ago at the close of the preliminary hearing, during which prosecution witnesses described the medical care the doctor provided Jackson.
"The doctor has limited financial ability, and that financial ability — if they take away his licenses — it doesn't get better," attorney Ed Chernoff said. Murray still holds licenses in Nevada and Texas, where he has a heart clinic. Chernoff said the defense was "hoping and praying" the medical boards in those two states would wait for the outcome of the court case before taking any action.
He added that Murray's emotional health was also a factor in seeking a speedy trial. "Seeing patients is what keeps him alive," Chernoff said.
Pastor said he would order court officials to summon a larger than normal pool of potential jurors, given the high-profile nature of the case. He said his "inclination" was to allow television coverage of the trial, which the defense said was likely to last eight weeks.
Jackson died June 25, 2009, of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Murray acknowledged using to treat the singer's chronic insomnia. His lawyers have suggested that Jackson injected or drank a fatal amount of the drug when the physician wasn't looking. Prosecutors contend that Murray egregiously violated the standards of medical care by administering the drug without proper monitoring and then covering up his actions after the singer stopped breathing.