LOS ANGELES — The judge in the upcoming trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor ruled Monday that the defense cannot call any witnesses to testify about the child molestation investigation that led to the pop star’s trial and acquittal in 1995.
Prosecutor David Walgren argued that lawyers for Dr. Conrad Murray were seeking to engage in character assassination of the victim in the involuntary manslaughter case.
“The people are concerned about this trial deteriorating into an attack on Michael Jackson,” Walgren said.
The hearing took place on what would have been Jackson’s 53rd birthday.
Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor barred a half-dozen witnesses related to the molestation case, including the police detective who headed searches of Jackson’s Neverland home in Santa Barbara County in 2003. The judge said such testimony would be distracting and misleading for the jury in Murray’s trial and is irrelevant.
The judge said he was barring any mention of the molestation case because, “It proves nothing regarding the year 2009,” when Jackson died.
Defense attorney Edward Chernoff said he was seeking testimony that in the past Jackson had been addicted to the painkiller Demerol.
Chernoff repeated a previously stated defense position that the pop star was addicted to that drug and was withdrawing from it when he died of an overdose of propofol and other medications in June 2009.
Walgren, however, said Jackson’s autopsy found no Demerol in his body.
The judge effectively blocked the Demerol defense when he also excluded the testimony of Dr. Arnold Klein, a dermatologist blamed by the defense for giving Jackson Demerol. Pastor said written reports on Klein’s statements could be used but neither the doctor nor his assistant will testify.
Walgren argued that the defense was seeking to transfer responsibility for Jackson’s death to Klein. The judge appeared to agree with the prosecutor.
“The calling of Dr. Klein does raise the issue of third party culpability,” the judge said, noting jurors would become distracted by that issue.
Opening statements in the trial of Murray are scheduled to begin on Sept. 27. Murray, who has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter, could face up to four years in prison if convicted.
Authorities allege he gave Jackson a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives in the bedroom of his rented mansion on June 25, 2009.
In court on Monday, Chernoff suggested that Jackson was desperate for sleep and turned to propofol because he was withdrawing from Demerol.
Pastor said he would permit two other doctors and a nurse to testify about their interactions with Jackson regarding propofol. One was a dentist who used Murray’s office for a dental procedure on Jackson in which he administered propofol.
Outlining the planned defense for the Houston-based cardiologist, Chernoff reiterated that he would claim Jackson self-administered the drug in a desperate quest for sleep.
Also barred was the testimony of Tohme Tohme, a one-time Jackson manager who negotiated the contracts for Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It” concerts, and John Branca, the co-executor of Jackson’s estate. Pastor has said Jackson’s finances won’t be discussed at the trial.
The judge ordered lawyers back to court Sept. 6 to finalize jury questionnaires which will be handed out beginning Sept. 8.
He said in-court questioning will begin Sept. 23 with each side allotted 20 minutes to question each jury prospect.
When Chernoff suggested that time was too short, the judge said, “Counsel will have the most comprehensive jury questionnaire I’ve ever seen, perhaps the most comprehensive one ever. You will know from that who they are and what they are thinking.”