Fans throng courthouse for trial of Michael Jackson's doctor
Conrad Murray charged with manslaughter, not murder, in death of pop star
People from France, Spain and Australia vie for precious few seats inside
Some dress in MJ's honor, read psalms and chant "Justice for Michael"
They came seeking justice as the sun rose Tuesday over a courthouse in the heart of downtown Los Angeles made famous by its celebrity trials – O.J. Simpson, Snoop Dogg, Phil Spector.
But there were almost as many definitions of justice as there were justice seekers. Some shouted “Murderer!” as the defendant, Conrad Murray, arrived at the Clara Foltz Justice Center for the start of his involuntary manslaughter trial in the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson.
“Dr. Murray,” corrected Beatrice Fakhrian, a supporter of the defendant. “He has earned that title.”
So began the long-anticipated trial of the personal physician accused of causing the death of one of the most famous people in the world. More than 100 people from France, Spain and Australia, as well as the far-flung suburbs of Los Angeles, crowded into the dingy courthouse plaza, jockeying for a chance at one of just six courtroom seats, or to say their piece in front of television cameras.
Some read psalms, some handed out sunflowers, some chanted “Justice for Michael,” and many of them carried signs, transforming a wall outside the courthouse into an international billboard.
“Bulgaria Loves MJ,” one sign said. So do the Netherlands, Romania and Malaysia, according to the signed posters taped to the wall.
A doctor in a while coat preached about safe ways to administer anesthesia.
A Michael Jackson impersonator preened for the cameras.
“Even in death, Michael Jackson can draw a crowd,” said Najee Ali, a Los Angeles civil rights activist who grew up in Jackson’s hometown, Gary, Indiana. Ali was the force behind the “Caravan of Love” to support Jackson when he was acquitted in Santa Barbara of child molestation charges in 2005.
Julie Jenkins, 31, came from Australia and was rewarded by winning the lottery for one of the courtroom seats available to the public. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was 7 and wore black jeans, a red shirt, a black armband and aviator sunglasses in honor of her idol.
“For me, it represents the first time I saw him in person,” she said, explaining her get-up, which was vaguely reminiscent of Jackson¹s look during his “History” tour. “It also represents blood, because we think he was murdered.”
She pounded a closed fist over her chest.
That sentiment is shared by many of Jackson’s fans, although Murray is charged with the less serious offense of involuntary manslaughter. He is accused of giving Jackson a lethal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol to help him sleep as the pop star prepared for his comeback “This is It” concerts in June 2009.
Defense: Michael Jackson caused his own death
Murder also is a major theme for the group “Justice4MJ,” which was out in force on Tuesday, leading the crowd in chants of “Justice for Michael” as Jackson’s family walked into the courthouse.
Erin Jacobs, one of the group’s outspoken leaders, also won a seat for the trial’s first day. She has attended every pretrial hearing, and was tossed out of court last week during jury selection after getting into a staring contest with Murray.
She said she hadn’t slept. Like her idol, “I experienced insomnia last night,” she said. “I have been a fan my whole life. This is my passion, to work for Michael.”
Court officials warned Jacobs she would have to cover up her T-shirt in court. If she flashed her “Justice4MJ” logo, she’d lose her seat and be banned for the rest of the trial.
Karlene Taylor, 49, wanted a seat so badly she couldn’t sleep. She has been a Jackson fan since she was 8. “I remember ‘ABC’ Michael,” she said. Alas, the lottery gods did not smile on her Tuesday.
Robyn Starkand and Betty Byrnes of the fan group “Call for Love” handed out sunflowers, hoping to lead a respectful vigil on the courthouse steps, complete with songs and prayers. But they were upstaged by a Michael Jackson look-alike.
They started with “Heal the World,” but the voices soon waned, and Jackson impersonator Goward Horton stepped in with his version of “Man in the Mirror,” complete with Jackson’s distinctive yips and squeaks.
“They’ve turned it into the Goward show,” Starkand groused. “This is really serious. It’s not the time for a Michael Jackson impersonator.”
It was a time for the real one, their Michael.