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Dr. Conrad Murray demands a speedy trial in Michael Jackson case

By Alan Duke, CNN
"Your honor, I am an innocent man," Dr. Conrad Murray told a judge at his arraignment Tuesday.
"Your honor, I am an innocent man," Dr. Conrad Murray told a judge at his arraignment Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: His lawyers have not decided if Dr. Murray will testify
  • Murray's trial, set to begin March 28, may be televised
  • "I am an innocent man," Murray tells the judge
  • A judge ruled earlier this month the involuntary manslaughter case should go to trial

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Dr. Conrad Murray invoked his right to a speedy trial on an involuntary manslaughter charge in the death of Michael Jackson, requiring the case to begin by March 28.

"Your honor, I am an innocent man," Murray said after Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor asked him to enter a plea during his arraignment Tuesday.

"What's your plea?" Pastor asked again.

"Not guilty," Murray said.

Pastor set March 28 as the date for jury selection to begin, and said he is "inclined" to permit live TV coverage of the trial .

"The defense fully intends to be ready for that trial," Murray defense lawyer Ed Chernoff said. "For his part, Dr. Murray is looking forward for the opportunity to finally tell his part of the story,"

The defense team has not decided yet if Murray will take the stand to testify in his own defense, Chernoff said.

He demanded the speedy trial, which requires the prosecution to be ready within 60 days of Tuesday's arraignment, because Murray has been waiting "for the opportunity to do this," Chernoff said. "This is the first chance that we have to force the issue and hopefully we can get to trial during that period of time."

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Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney David Walgren estimated the trial would take four to six weeks, depending on how long it takes to pick a jury.

Both sides will appear before the judge next on February 7 to discuss what written questions they would ask prospective jurors.

Chernoff said finding a jury to hear the highly publicized case should not be a problem

"Dr. Murray has absolute faith in the jury system and absolute faith in people in general," he said.

Jackson family members in court for Tuesday's arraignment included his mother, Katherine Jackson, along with sister Rebbie and brothers Jackie and Randy Jackson.

Murray was formally charged with involuntary manslaughter last February, but his preliminary hearing was not held until this month. Judge Pastor ruled after that there was enough evidence to send Murray's case to trial.

Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, from what the coroner ruled was "acute propofol intoxication," in combination with "the contributory affects of the benzodiazepines."

"Michael is not with us today because of an utterly inept, incompetent, reckless doctor, the defendant Conrad Murray," Walgren said in his final arguments at the preliminary hearing.

Murray remains free on a $75,000 bond, but the judge blocked the doctor from using his California medical license until the trial is completed. The state medical board requested that be made a provision of his bail.

While Jackson was Murray's only and last California patient, Murray's lawyer argued a suspension in one state would prompt Texas and Nevada, where he sees patients, to also take action.

Murray's lawyers appeared satisfied with the results of the preliminary hearing because of testimony they got from prosecution witnesses that might help raise reasonable doubt about Murray's guilt at trial.

"I think the prosecution is going to change their tactics in this case," defense lawyer J. Michael Flanagan said after the hearing. "It's not the same as what they gave in opening statements."

The prosecution's expert witness in the case admitted he made a math mistake and that the recalculation supports the defense theory that Michael Jackson may have given himself the fatal dose of propofol.

Propofol is a surgical anesthetic that the Los Angeles coroner ruled killed Jackson in combination with several sedatives found in his blood.

Dr. Richard Ruffalo, an anesthesiologist hired by the prosecution, was the last witness to take the stand.

"I actually made a mistake on that," Ruffalo said during cross-examination, referring to his calculation of the levels of propofol in Jackson's stomach fluid.

The admission drew an audible gasp from Jackson family members sitting in court.

Murray's lawyers suggest a frustrated and sleepless Jackson may have poured the surgical anesthetic propofol into his juice bottle while the doctor was out of his bedroom.

"Now it doesn't make sense unless he ingested it orally in a huge amount," Ruffalo testified.

But he said Murray would still be at fault, because he left dangerous drugs near a patient who was addicted, Ruffalo said.

"It's like leaving a syringe next to a heroin addict," Ruffalo said. "If he's not getting what he wants, when you leave the room he might reach for it himself."

"Either way, it doesn't matter," he testified. "He abandoned his patient and didn't resuscitate appropriately."

Murray should have anticipated that Jackson, who had previously asked to inject himself, might do this, Ruffalo said.

"He gets upset if he doesn't get his milk," he said, referring to Jackson's habit of referring to propofol as his "milk."

La Toya Jackson, the pop star's sister, was clearly upset by hearing a prosecution witness portray her brother as an addict.

The pathologist who conducted Jackson's autopsy acknowledged it was possible, although improbable, that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose of the propofol.

Murray said in a police interview two days after the death that a sleepless Jackson begged him for propofol the day he died, a police detective testified.

While Murray told police he eventually gave Jackson propofol, the defense lawyer suggested that it could be that a frustrated Jackson poured the fatal dosage into his juice and drank it.

Jackson had depended on propofol to put him to sleep almost every night in the previous weeks as he was preparing for his "This Is It" comeback concerts, but Murray began to wean him off the surgical anesthetic two nights earlier, the doctor told police.

A civil lawsuit filed last year by Jackson's mother against the company producing the concerts alleged that he had been warned a week earlier "that if Jackson missed any further rehearsals, they were going to 'pull the plug' on the show."