I am a veteran.
Not of any wars. But I am a veteran of having covered not one but two O.J. Simpson trials (criminal and civil); one Robert Blake trial; and, one Michael Jackson trial. I think I know how defense lawyers think and have dealt with the best and worst of them. I also have a pretty good take on how prosecutors operate.
So, I will tell you right now and with no fear of contradiction: Should Dr. Conrad Murray's case on involuntary manslaughter charges ever go before a Los Angeles jury (and more about that a bit later), the doctor's defense lawyers, if they are any good (and I think his current one is!) will no doubt try and turn the trial into a prosecution of Michael Jackson.
Lawyers for O.J., in his criminal trial, zeroed in on the LAPD; while lawyers for Robert Blake took aim at his dead wife's, shall we say, "background."
I'm afraid that Michael Jackson's life is ripe for the defense picking.
Dr. Murray has pleaded not guilty to the charge against him. And, it is telling that, despite considerable pressure from Jackson's family and fan base, the Los Angeles County District Attorney correctly opted for the least possible criminal charge they could go for, involuntary manslaughter--which history shows is often the most difficult charge to actually prove in a court of law. Even if convicted, the maximum sentence is four years.
An eight month investigation....a relatively light criminal charge. (If any criminal charge can ever really be thought of as "light"?)
The California state Medical Board is reportedly considering whether to suspend Murray's medical license, but that would only stop him from practicing in California. He practices in Texas and Nevada, too.
Jackson's father, Joe, went on Larry King to say that "I was looking for justice, and justice, to me, would be a murder charge."
He went on to tell King, referring to Dr. Murray, "To me, he's just a fall guy. There's other people, I think involved with this whole thing."
On that, the senior Jackson may have a point, but not for the reason he thinks.
He seems to be implying some sort of sinister murder conspiracy aimed at his son, without offering, I hasten to add, any evidence, though that seldom stops talk shows from exploiting such comments for dramatic effect, not to mention ratings.
But should this case go to trial, the doctor's defense lawyer (lawyers?) will no doubt try to paint a picture of Michael Jackson that his family, and certainly his own children, may not wish to hear: That the singer was apparently an addicted drug addict (certainly it would seem to the surgical anesthetic propofol); that many, many doctors before Dr. Murray was even hired contributed to the deceased superstar's addictive personality and lifestyle (not to mention who knows how many drug stores that gladly filled prescription after prescription, made up names or not); and, I'm afraid to say, even Jackson family members who may have, over the years, acted as enablers, all in the name of keeping the Michael Jackson performing machine going at full steam ahead, will probably become part of the defense argument.
Yes, Joe Jackson is probably correct. Other people are involved in the singer's untimely death. In one way or another.
That is why I think it is probably in the best interests of justice, and Michael Jackson's reputation and legacy, that this case never go to trial. Dr. Murray is not likely to know all the previous medical people who played a role in Michael Jackson's addiction. Jackson's family and fans probably do not need to have Jackson's name dragged through the LA mud once again, as certainly it will be during any trial.
I understand that Dr. Murray wants to clear his name. He certainly enjoys the cloak of innocent until proven guilty that our criminal justice system provides. But if I were a prosecutor, I would push hard for a plea bargain, one that would strip the doctor of his ability to practice medicine. The poor doctor was apparently just the last link in a very long chain that, unintentionally, led to Jackson's death. It seems unfair to him that he should shoulder the entire burden. By the same token, Michael Jackson was, indeed, a victim, but one whose own hands had some blood on them. His small children have suffered enough. Do they really need to hear all the sordid details that will surely emerge about their dad's lifestyle should this case go to trial? I, for one, don't think so.
Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995 and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting to KNX1070 Newsradio.