A formidable team of lawyers has lined up to defend Dr. Conrad Murray, who was charged Monday with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson.
Murray, Jackson’s former personal physician, arrived at a courthouse near Los Angeles International Airport on Monday afternoon following a week of negotiations with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted on the single count.
Murray entered a plea of not guilty and his bail was set at $75,000. The next hearing in the case was set for April 5.
In a press release, District Attorney Stephen Cooley said that Deputy DA David Walgren will prosecute the case. The state alleges that Murray “did unlawfully, and without malice, kill Michael Joseph Jackson … in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; and in the commission of a lawful act which might have produced death, in an unlawful manner, and without due caution and circumspection.”
Murray has acknowledged that he gave Jackson the anesthetic propofol before his death on June 25. An autopsy found that Jackson’s death was a homicide caused by “acute propofol intoxication” in combination with other drugs.
Murray’s legal team is well versed in criminal defense. His lead lawyer, Ed Chernoff, a partner at criminal defense firm Stradley, Chernoff & Alford in Houston, did not return a call for comment. His firm’s cases have run the gamut of criminal defense, including assault and domestic violence, sex offenses, drunken driving, drug charges, theft and property crimes. He is handling Murray’s defense along with his firm’s other partners, Matthew Alford and William Stradley. Chernoff is a 1987 graduate of University of Houston Law Center.
In recent weeks, Murray has added two lawyers in California to his defense team: Michael Flanagan and Joseph Low.
Flanagan, a partner at Glendale-based Flanagan, Unger, Grover & McCool, is no stranger to celebrity clients. He recently defended Britney Spears against criminal misdemeanor charges related to driving without a license and Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Ronald Belisario, who pleaded not guilty in August to misdemeanor drunken driving.
Flanagan told Recorder affiliate The National Law Journal that his office, his house and the courthouses that he has entered in recent weeks have been besieged by news camera crews. “Probably the next most attention after this case was when I was representing Britney and we went to trial. But there were never photographers at my office and Channel 4 trucks parked outside my house waiting to see where I was going that day.”
He attributed the abundance of news crews to the dearth of information provided by the district attorney’s case until Monday.
“The case is about eight months old, and the defense has not been afforded any discovery, reports and opinions by experts. We haven’t even been given the toxicology reports,” Flanagan said. “None of the attorneys are really in a position to figure out what each of us is going to be doing, what our responsibilities are going to be. We don’t know what our theory of defense is.”
Still, Flanagan predicted that the case will be “fairly big.”
“The evidence is going to be fairly voluminous in this case, and it would probably be too much for one guy to manage the entire case and make all the decisions,” he said. “We just anticipate that … there’s going to be thousands of pages of evidence to go through.”
Flanagan said that Chernoff personally selected him and Low for the case. Neither has worked with the other before, he said.
Low, a solo practitioner in Long Beach, represented Nicole Alvarez, Murray’s girlfriend, when she testified before a grand jury in Los Angeles a few months ago. He confirmed to The National Law Journal that he now is on Murray’s legal team.
Low said that he tries a lot of cases, especially major crimes like drug possession and murder. Last year, Low represented Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, who was charged by military prosecutors with murdering an unarmed Iraqi during battle in Fallujah. Nelson pleaded guilty in September to dereliction of duty; he received an honorable discharge and murder charges were dismissed. In 2007, Low represented another Marine, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, who was acquitted of murdering an Iraqi civilian in Hamdaniya but convicted of larceny and housebreaking. Magincalda was sentenced to time served.
Low, a former Marine, holds a master’s degree in biochemistry and graduated in 1997 from University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law. His firm maintains additional California offices in Beverly Hills, San Diego, Torrance and Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
“I haven’t lost a murder case,” Low said.
Amanda Bronstad is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.