LOS ANGELES (AP) — A defense lawyer for Michael Jackson's doctor said Wednesday the singer was so anguished about his deteriorating finances in his final days that he took desperate actions that caused his own death.
The statements by attorney Edward Chernoff came during a pretrial hearing in the case of Dr. Conrad Murray, who has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death.
Chernoff was asking to see Jackson's financial records to prove a key defense theory.
"The crux of the defense is going to be that Michael Jackson engaged in a desperate act and took desperate measures that caused his death," Chernoff told Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor. "We believe at the time Michael Jackson died he was a desperate man in relation to his financial affairs."
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren accused the defense of trying to distract from the main issue of the trial — whether Murray acted with gross negligence when he gave Jackson the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives on the day he died..
"This is an irrelevant sideshow designed to take issues away from the jury and smear Michael Jackson," Walgren said. "It has nothing to do with the case on which Dr. Murray is being prosecuted. "
Attorney Howard Weitzman, representing the late singer's estate, also opposed the request for financial records.
"Is the theory that Michael Jackson committed suicide, took his own life?" he said incredulously. "I don't think that's a salable theory.
The judge refused to grant the request.
"I'm not going to turn an involuntary manslaughter trial into some kind of an escapade in analysis of the finances in Michael Jackson's entire life," Pastor said. "Right now this is major deep sea fishing."
However, Pastor did order Weitzman to confer with defense counsel on financial records that are already available in the public record.
The reference to Jackson's finances added a new twist to the defense case.
During an earlier preliminary hearing, Murray's lawyers suggested that Jackson, who was desperate for sleep, gave himself an additional dose of propofol while Murray was in a restroom. A coroner's report showed the singer died of an overdose of propofol and an assortment of other sedatives.
Defense lawyers never used the word suicide and implied his death was accidental but self-inflicted. They seemed poised to argue that Jackson was about to embark on an extremely strenuous concert tour because it was the only way to save himself financially.
They are likely to suggest that was why Jackson was so desperate for sleep as he was preparing for the tour. At a preliminary hearing for Murray, Jackson was quoted by a witness as saying if he didn't sleep he would have to cancel the tour.
Murray's lawyers, Ed Chernoff and Nareg Gourjian, have also asked the judge to limit the evidence offered in court. They have asked that photos of Jackson's body not be admitted as evidence, saying that
"These photographs are graphic, gruesome and highly prejudicial.
"Admission of these photographs to the jurors will jeopardize Dr. Murray's right to a fair trial because of the significant risk that the jury will base their decision not on the evidence presented, but on emotional grounds which play no part in a criminal action."
The also asked that information about Murray's personal life, children and alleged affairs not be admitted. "The prosecution's case involves the treatment and care of Michael Jackson provided by Dr. Murray. It is not about the existence and number of children Dr. Murray has, or about his personal sexual relationship with women."
Lawyers were ordered to return Thursday to continue screening prospective jurors through written questionnaires. Jury selection is scheduled to move into open court on May 4 and opening statements are expected on May 9.