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Defense for Jackson doctor seeks trial delay

Defense attorneys for the doctor charged in Michael Jackson's death have asked a judge to delay the trial so they can prepare for newly named prosecution witnesses.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In an eleventh-hour move, defense attorneys for Michael Jackson's doctor asked a judge Friday to delay his trial so they can prepare for newly disclosed prosecution witnesses.

Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor did not immediately rule on the oral motion but instructed attorneys for Dr. Conrad Murray to file a formal motion by Sunday afternoon.

He gave the prosecution until 6 a.m. Monday to respond before a hearing later that morning.

Pastor was taken by surprise by the motion, saying he never expected to be dealing with such a development only days before jury selection was to resume, followed by opening statements on May 9.

"This court has expended funds in excess of six figures on this case," he said, adding he had delayed 20 other cases, including three death penalty trials, to clear the way for the Murray trial.

Pastor ordered Murray to attend the Monday hearing.

He also pointed out that 171 prospective jurors filled out questionnaires and were told to return May 4 for further questioning. In a separate session in the judge's chambers, attorneys agreed to dismiss 30 of those prospects for cause, most likely because they expressed strong views about the case.

Murray's defense attorney Ed Chernoff told Pastor the Houston-based cardiologist had agreed to the delay. Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the pop star's death.

The judge and prosecutors previously expressed concerns about defense attorneys needing more time to prepare. But Chernoff had been adamant that his client wanted a trial within the 60-day statutory time limit after the preliminary hearing.

That changed Friday when the defense said the prosecution had disclosed it could call additional witnesses with surprising scientific theories the defense did not anticipate. The defense asked to bar the witnesses but the judge refused.

Chernoff and attorney J. Michael Flanagan said they were not prepared to cross-examine the new witnesses and would have to line up experts of their own for rebuttal testimony.

Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said the situation was the defense team's own fault for refusing to delay the trial when he and the judge suggested it. He had no immediate response to the defense motion.

Among the new expert opinions proposed by prosecutors is that Jackson could not have caused his own death by swallowing the powerful anesthetic propofol because it is not absorbed through the intestines.

At a preliminary hearing earlier this year, the defense posed the idea that Jackson, desperate for sleep, swallowed the drug while his doctor was out of the room. Propofol normally is administered intravenously for surgery.

Walgren said the prosecution's central theory remains the same.

"It was always our theory," he said, "that Dr. Murray was incompetent, untruthful and caused the death of Michael Jackson."