Michael Jackson's former personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray entered a plea of not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter in the June 2009 death of the pop star at his arraignment on Tuesday morning (January 25).
According to the Los Angeles Times, when asked by judge Michael Pastor how he pleaded to the charge, Murray said, "Your honor, I am an innocent man." When Pastor interrupted and asked Murray what his plea was, the cardiologist said, "Therefore, I plead not guilty."
The brief hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court ended with Pastor setting a March 28 date for the start of a trial in the case. Murray faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted, and the Times noted that he surprised the judge by invoking his right to a speedy trial, which meant the case would have to begin by late March. Pastor noted the rarity of a defendant asking to have a speedy trial, then set jury selection for the week of March 28 and said he was inclined to allow television coverage of the trial that the defense expects will last two months.
Lawyers for Murray have maintained his innocence all along, saying he did not do anything that "should have" caused the 50-year-old pop icon's death. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office determined that Jackson died of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol mixed with a cocktail of other sedatives.
Murray has admitted to administering propofol to Jackson in the hours before the singer's death, but the defense appears to be gearing up to claim that it was Jackson who administered the final, fatal dose of the drug after he woke in a panic from a fitful night of sleep.
During a preliminary hearing earlier this month to determine if there was enough evidence to hold Murray over for trial, the physician's attorneys said that there was evidence Jackson injected or drank a fatal amount of the drug when the doctor was not looking.