Though he dodged a potential four-year prison term, former Michael Jackson physician Conrad Murray was sentenced to an equal amount of time in Los Angeles County Jail on Tuesday (November 29) in the death of the pop singer.
But the same overcrowding problems that spared the cardiologist from doing time in a federal pen might also save him from serving his entire sentence in county as well. Shortly after the sentence was handed down by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor, Los Angeles Sheriff spokesman Steve Whitmore told E! News that Murray would likely end up serving "a little less than two years." Due to overcrowding, most county jail sentences are immediately cut in half, and given the 46 days credit Murray has already been given, he is looking at even less than that.
Murray's lawyers said afterward that they believed the sentence was unnecessarily long. "Yes, of course [Judge Pastor] was harsh. He gave the stiffest penalty he was entitled to give under the law," Murray's attorney, J. Michael Flanagan, told reporters. "He was openly hostile. ... [Murray has] led 56 years of exemplary life. He was really dreading [sentencing]. I think anybody would dread going into it. He's an honorable man, and he'll get through this. The family is suffering more than Dr. Murray is. ... Dr. Murray is the provider in that family."
Pastor had leeway in the sentencing, with options ranging from probation to the full sentence, but in a lengthy ruling from the bench, he said Murray's lack of remorse and negligent behavior called for the highest possible penalty. "He is and remains dangerous ... the request of probation is denied, the court imposes the high term of four years imprisonment in this case," Pastor said during the 90-plus-minute hearing.
Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney Mike Cavalluzzi told MTV News that he wasn't surprised by the sentencing but that he didn't believe it was justified. Cavalluzzi said Pastor had incentive to give the full sentence because of the prominence of Jackson and his family and to create the perception that he is tough on crime. "He gets that perception by sentencing him to the max while not having to surrender the defendant to the full sentence," said Cavalluzzi, who was not involved in the case. "He gets the self-satisfaction of being perceived as being tough on crime and making the Jackson family happy, but I don't think it was a fair sentence."
Cavalluzzi said when deciding prison versus probation, judges have to look at someone's criminal history and whether a person is likely to complete the terms of their probation, which he believes Murray would. "I'm not seeing aggravating factors here, and I think it was just a chapter in [Murray's] life and he does not have a history of being a mercenary doctor always after money, but of being a good, responsible doctor who was seduced by the celebrity and money that Jackson offered," he said.
As to why Pastor gave such a dramatic, lengthy explanation for why he was sentencing Murray to the max, Cavalluzzi said the judge has to have a justification for his actions in the public record. "Because he doesn't have the discretion to give a high prison term, [Pastor] has to justify his sentence in the record and have very specific reasons for it. I don't think there's any way that anyone truly believes that from this day forward Dr. Murray truly represents a threat to society. That's just ludicrous."
And while he doesn't agree with the four-year term, Cavalluzzi said the high-profile nature of the case and the glare of the media could have played into the sentence. "It probably gives Jackson's family great comfort to have someone to blame," he said. " 'If not for this awful man, my son, brother, father would be alive.' But it's not fair to do that and it feels like a capitulating judgment in favor of feeding the emotional needs of the family."
Upon leaving the courthouse, Michael's brother Jermaine, when asked if the four-year sentence was enough, shook his head and said, "No." Mother Katherine Jackson told local TV station KTLA, "Four years is not enough for someone's life. It won't bring him back. But at least he got the maximum, and I thought the judge was very, very fair."
The prosecution, however, was satisfied with the ruling.
"We're pleased. That's what we thought was appropriate. The judge obviously agreed with us," deputy district attorney David Walgren said. "It was our position that it was not a simple, one-time mistake; it was a series of mistakes culminating in the abandonment of Michael Jackson when he died ... the judge agreed with that sentiment. A brother and a son and a family member was killed, and whatever the sentence may be, the family of the victim deserves justice. And we did everything to bring them that justice."
As for how much time Murray will spend locked up, Cavalluzzi said it is likely to be less than two years and, frankly, he predicted, the doctor could be out even sooner than that. "He might be eligible for house arrest very quickly," he said.