"I'm not surprised by the charge, no," said Chapman Holley, who worked as part of the defense team for O.J. Simpson, as well as representing Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, the Kardashian sisters, Reggie Bush and Tupac Shakur. (Chapman Holley is not involved in the Murray case.) "It's really the only thing it could have been. It's the only charge under the heading of homicide that does not require an intent element."
The district attorney's office charged Murray on Monday, saying that the Houston-based cardiologist "did unlawfully, and without malice, kill Michael Joseph Jackson." An arraignment was taking place at press time, where Murray was expected to turn himself in and enter a not-guilty plea. If convicted, Murray faces a possible four-year state prison term.
"There's no question in my mind that he didn't intend for Jackson to die or be hurt," Chapman Holley said. "A murder charge would require that intent, but it becomes involuntary manslaughter when a defendant did something that posed a high possibility of death or grave injury. The issue will be whether or not administering the drugs he administered in the manner he did was likely to cause death or serious injury."
Chapman Holley predicted that Murray's legal team will mount a spirited defense based on a lot of expert medical testimony, which will include physicians who will say that what Murray did should not have caused injury or death and that his actions were not unreasonable. They will also likely bring up allegations that Murray was not the first physician or medical worker to provide Jackson with propofol or other sedatives. Murray has reportedly told investigators that he provided Jackson with the powerful anesthetic propofol several times in the hours leading up to the 50-year-old singer's death in June as part of a nightly regimen of anesthetics and sedatives that the singer allegedly used to combat chronic insomnia.
One of the hardest factors for Murray's defense team is the fact that the doctor spoke to investigators several times in the days after Jackson's death, a move Chapman Holley said might have been ill-conceived. "You usually don't want your client to talk to the police in order to not be locked into a timeline," she said, suggesting that by giving investigators a minute-by-minute account of what he was doing prior to Jackson's death, Murray might have committed himself to an account of events that he will not be able to deviate from. "People who feel like they didn't do anything wrong naturally want to talk to the police, but it's almost always not a good idea from a criminal-law standpoint. You lock yourself into that timeline, and the police are trying to build a case against you, so they act real nice, but really they just want to hear what happened as they're gathering evidence against you."
Another complicating factor will be finding a jury to try the case, which Chapman Holley said might actually be the most time-consuming part of the trial, which she predicted would likely last a month. "I'm not a doctor, but based on what I've heard, [what Murray did] sounds crazy. A jury won't know either, so you'll have these doctors coming in to testify of the risks of doing this, and while his experts will say there was not a tremendous risk, the DA's experts will say there was," she said. "Obviously, it did cause his death, but that's not the question here. You have to look at what the person did and what they knew at the time. It's almost like the outcome [of Murray's actions] are not irrelevant, but not really important to the case. Plus, everyone loves Michael Jackson, so it will be tough to find a jury without bias."
The sight on Monday of a large portion of the Jackson clan going into the courtroom to watch the charging, coupled with the much-derided trip Murray took last week to mourn near Jackson's grave in what was seen as a blatant plea for sympathy, will also likely make things hard on a defense team looking to change the tarnished image of the doctor.
Facing a possible two to four years in prison, Murray will probably be sentenced to the lesser term, Chapman Holley said, but she doubted he would emerge from the trial without serving some time. "He could get probation, but it doesn't sound like there will be a plea in this case," she said, noting the intense pressure on the Los Angeles District Attorney's office to put together a very strong case in light of such difficult celebrity cases as the O.J. Simpson trial and the two Robert Blake murder trials.
"As I understand it, part of the reason the DA's office took so long was because they really, really wanted to be sure the evidence was there to get a conviction," she said, citing discussions with members of the DA's office.
As for whether she would put Murray on the stand, Chapman Holley said if the defense's medical experts did a good enough job, it wouldn't be necessary. "But he seems like the kind of guy who wants to take the stand," she said. A spokesperson for Murray's lawyer, Edward Chernoff, said he would release a statement following Monday's arraignment. Before the charge was filed, Chernoff said, according to The Associated Press, "We'll make bail, we'll plead not guilty and we'll fight like hell."