The Los Angeles judge presiding over Conrad Murray's involuntary manslaughter trial over the death of Michael Jackson has told prospective jurors that he wants them to "insulate" themselves when it comes to the case, despite the extensive media attention given to it.
Jury selection began on Thursday and on Friday, September 9, a final group of 145 out of 372 prospective jurors have been chosen to move on to the next stage of screening. They are set to return on September 23 to be questioned by defense attorneys and prosecutors, after which more people will be dismissed until a jury is chosen.
Autopsy results have shown that Jackson, the King of Pop, died at age 50 at his Los Angeles on June 25, 2009 from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives.
Murray was by the singer's side of the day he died and pleaded not guilty in January to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted. His lawyers say Jackson drank propofol while the doctor was away from his bedside.
Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor had weeks ago denied a bid by Murray's lawyers to try to have the jury sequestered, saying it is unrealistic to expect jurors to avoid hearing anything about the case outside of the court. He said he did not want to inconvenience jurors and make them feel like prisoners.
The judge has said the trial will last until October 28. Opening statements are due on September 27. As is the case with all jury trials, the judge wants jurors to decide the case based on evidence presented in the courtroom.
Pastor told prospective jurors on Friday that they cannot discuss the proceedings with outsiders, including religious leaders or therapists. He said they are not allowed to read, listen or watch material about the case or write or talk about it online or via "telepathic communication," which drew some chuckles.
"I don't want you to put your computer down, turn your phone off and cut communication with people," Pastor added. "I just want you to adjust your conduct, insulate yourself when it comes to this case."
The remaining 145 prospective jurors have filled out a 30-page questionnaire that attorneys for the defense and the prosecution will review before the group returns for final screening.
The people were asked about their knowledge of the case, Murray, Jackson, the singer's music, their experience with propofol and other medications, possible histories of drug or alcohol abuse, relations to law enforcement personnel and criminal backgrounds.
They were also asked if they or anyone close to them are acquainted with people who may be called in to testify or who may be mentioned during the trial. Such names include members of Jackson's family and doctors, producers and other people he is said to have been associated with.
During the trial, jurors must eat all their meals in a secluded room and will not be allowed to roam the hallways of the courthouse. The judge has already made several rulings about what can and what cannot be presented during the trial.
A Norway study involving intravenous and rectal administration of propofol in piglets can be cited and is set to be used as basis for one expert's opinion on whether propofol would have any effect if ingested. Flanagan opposed the inclusion of the experiment, saying that it was not carried out on humans.
The judge has yet to rule on whether a Chile study of propofol that did involve human subjects can be mentioned during the proceedings.
Witnesses will not be allowed to testify about the King of Pop's 2005 child molestation case, during which the singer was found not guilty, a judge ruled on August 29, adding that such information is irrelevant to Murray's case and would be distracting and misleading for the jury.
The judge also posed more hurdles for Murray's attorneys. He said that Arnold Klein, Jackson's dermatologist, is not allowed to testify at the involuntary manslaughter trial.
Murray's attorneys had said that Klein had prescribed the painkiller Demerol to Jackson and that the singer was withdrawing from it at the time of his death. Prosecutors said the defense was trying to divert attention from Murray and pin the blame on Klein.
Others barred from testifying - a police detective who searched Jackson's Neverland Ranch while he was being investigated for child molestation, Grace Rwaramba, former nanny of the singer's children and Chris Carter, a former bodyguard.
Among those who will be allowed to testify at Murray's trial - Karen Faye, Jackson's makeup artist and hair stylist, who has said she became worried about the singer's health prior to his death, physicians David Adams and Allen Metzger and the King of Pop's nurse, Cherylin Lee.
Pastor ruled several months ago that jurors at Murray's trial will be allowed to see autopsy photos of Jackson.