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Producer's notebook: Inside the Conrad Murray trial

The OJ Simpson trial was so last century. I know; I was there covering it. So, when some people started talking about the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor as this century’s first “Trial of the Century,” I knew I had to see for myself.
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The OJ Simpson trial was so last century. I know; I was there covering it. So, when some people started talking about the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor as this century’s first “Trial of the Century,” I knew I had to see for myself. Here’s my verdict: Despite some similarities, The People of the State of California versus Conrad Murray is not going to be a trial of the century.

The OJ Simpson murder trial was a perfect storm of issues: celebrity, race, money, gender, police procedure — and that’s not even bringing up the cast of characters of the “Dream Team” defense lawyers versus the out-manned prosecutors, Lance Ito (and Jay Leno’s Dancing Itos, the bounced jurors, the celebrity trial watchers and the glove that didn’t fit). The daily televised twists and turns turned the criminal trial into a national obsession.

But for us courtroom watchers, the Conrad Murray trial is holding its own. You’ve probably caught the newsworthy moments that are being capably covered by correspondent Jeff Rossen and a legal team of Savannah Guthrie and Star Jones (nick-named Star-vannah).

While I can’t do a better job of covering the story than they can, they can’t waste their time on the less important aspects of the trial. Like, what happens if you chew gum in court?

I spent the afternoon of Day 2 in court. Just to get there, you go through two sets of security — one in the lobby and another screening on the 9th floor where the courtroom is. (No food or beverages on the conveyor belt please!).

As a citizen of this fair county I have sat in that hallway. I sure don’t remember the dozen or so flyers hanging on the way with the admonition: No Cell Phones! No Transmitting from Court! Just in case, it’s also got the international sign for hang up your cell phone — a big red circle with a shish-kabobed phone. Of course on day three someone’s ringer went off in court and Judge Pastor now has a new phone.

Hanging in the hallway was an entourage of Jackson fans; many dressed appropriately, or inappropriately — depending on your point of view. There was a guy with a silver sequined cape. A woman — at least I think it was a woman — was made-up to look like Michael dressed in a black fedora, black loafers, a black jacket and black pants hemmed high enough to reveal her white socks. I expected her to start moonwalking. Another very petite man looked like a cross between Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis Junior. A woman was wearing a red military jacket with gold braids and epaulets. Since the judge has banned all outfits evoking Michael Jackson, I knew these folks were going to spend a frustrating afternoon as hall monitors.

The daily winners of the “public seats” all have pink badges pinned to their shirts and jackets. They got their seats by lining up about 7 AM for an 8:45 start time. But there were just as many pinked tagged fans as those just lounging around the hallway.

As we inched toward the afternoon session a parade of the lead players started streaming in. The defense team arrived first, with lead attorney Ed Chernoff bolting down the hallway.

Michael Jackson’s life and career

Slideshow  33 photos

Michael Jackson’s life and career

Click to see pictures from the highs and lows of Michael Jackson's career.

Shortly after, the defendant Dr. Conrad Murray, looking tired and a bit haggard, walked past, ringed by a coterie of very stern looking officers. The Jackson fans made not a peep. Then, prosecutors David Walgren and Deborah Brazil strode down the hall, accompanied by bailiffs. Next came the Jackson family — Janet and Randy, LaToya, mother Katherine Jackson and sister Rebbie. The Jackson groupies stood up — I’m not sure if it was a measure of respect or they just wanted a better view. The Jacksons were all escorted by bailiffs — one of whom stood guard as Katherine Jackson hit the ladies' room. There was a second brawny guy standing there, too. I’m guessing he was Jackson family security. I was too frightened to make a last-minute pit stop.

I slid into the first seat, smack up against the video equipment. I was right behind Janet and Randy. Being that close, I got a really good look at the magnificent tailoring on her gray wool suit and that I wished I’d had an iron so I could press the wrinkles out of Randy’s jacket. I also had a good view of Janet’s purse. It’s very organized.

My best view was of the jury. They seem like regular folks — taking notes at the appropriate time, being completely engaged even when some of us press folks were battling mid-afternoon fatigue.

In the fourth row up against the back wall are all the “public seats.” There sat about 13 women, I’d guess all around 30 to 40 years old. And they’re all constantly taking notes, in notebooks and journals, more so than the actual reporters. I guess if I miss something they can fill me in.

Michael Jackson death trial

Slideshow  21 photos

Michael Jackson death trial

Fans of the late King of Pop and supporters of the doctor charged in his death converge outside an L.A. courthouse.

One bailiff kept a careful eye on this group. Once during a lull in the testimony he handed a small piece of paper to one woman and ordered her to “take your gum out of your mouth.” Clearly she didn’t see the sign up on the wall: NO Talking, NO Gum and I think maybe, No Note Passing. I’m not completely certain about that one, but apparently it is a violation of courtroom etiquette because during another break that big brawny bailiff barked out to two of the public gals, “No note passing!” I had a flashback to Mr. Gill’s tenth grade trigonometry class.

I almost wanted to tattle on Randy and Janet for whispering to each other. Thank goodness LaToya gave them the shhh sign, because I was freaking out when my Blackberry buzzed with an email. In court, emails can check in but they can’t check out. There’s a big notice posted in front of every seat warning that transmitting from court is a violation. I could just see getting jail time for contempt for RSVP-ing to a screening of the latest Clooney movie.

Of course, the best seats in the house are in the Jury Box. But those come with a steep price, having to sit in judgment of the defendant. I’m guessing for them, it most certainly is the trial of the century.