Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray is charged in pop star's death

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Brian Watt/KPCC

About 10 Michael Jackson fans gather outside the Los Angeles Superior Court Airport branch on Monday, Feb. 8, 2010. Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, was charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the pop star's death.

Michael Jackson's personal physician was charged with involuntary manslaughter today in connection with the pop superstar's death from an overdose of a powerful prescription sedative. Dr. Conrad Murray, 56, pleaded not guilty to the felony charge at a brief arraignment hearing this afternoon at the Airport Branch Courthouse.

His bail was set at $75,000 -- above the $25,000 requested by defense attorneys but less than the $300,000 requested by the District Attorney's Office. Murray was taken into custody at the end of the arraignment hearing, but he was expected to post bond and be released.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Keith L. Schwartz ordered Murray to surrender his passport and told Murray he may not administer any heavy sedatives to patients -- particularly propofol, the powerful sedative that killed Jackson. He will still be allowed to write prescriptions for other medications.Murray is accused of administering an anesthetic to the singer before he died.

The charge carries a potential four-year prison term.

As Murray swept in quickly before 1 p.m., some of the Jackson fans gathered outside the courthouse shouted murderer, murderer.

On one side of the Airport branch courthouse on Monday was a row of media vans and satellite trucks. On the other were die-hard fans of Michael Jackson carrying signs that read, "the world wants justice for Michael," "Justice for Michael Jackson," and "Conrad Murray is a murderer. Arrest him!!! Handcuffs!!!"

Leading up to the court appearance, dozens of media vans and satellite trucks jammed the parking lot on the north side of the courthouse. Some began setting up five days ago in anticipation of Murray's possible surrender last Friday.

As the last person to see Jackson alive, Murray has been the focal point of a police investigation since Jackson died last June 25 at age 50. Murray acknowledged that he administered the hospital anesthetic propofol and other sedatives as Jackson, a chronic insomniac, struggled to sleep.

Murray had been hired as the performer's personal physician as he prepared for a monumental comeback concert in London. The doctor was to have traveled with Jackson and had closed down his cardiology practices in Houston and Las Vegas to devote himself to Jackson full time.

The death of the pop superstar left the doctor's life and medical practice in limbo. There was talk of a criminal case even before a coroner's report found that Jackson's death was a homicide and pinpointed propofol and other drugs as the cause.

On Friday, after a week of on-again, off-again reports that Murray would be charged, district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said the office was delaying any action until Monday amid reports that police wanted to arrest and handcuff the doctor but his attorneys were negotiating to avoid that.

The drama of his surrender and subsequent arraignment was played out in front of news cameras, and Murray's legal team wanted to avoid the spectacle of having the doctor seen in handcuffs by a large audience - including potential jurors for his trial.

One group that wants to see him in handcuffs is a contingent of Michael Jackson fans who launched a telephone campaign to the Los Angeles Police Department demanding as much. They threatened to hold a protest at the airport-area courthouse if Murray was allowed to surrender on his own.

The doctor maintains nothing he gave Jackson should have killed him. A trial would be expected to involve expert medical testimony on the use of propofol and whether there was gross negligence involved in its use at a private home. It is normally administered in hospital settings.

Murray's lead defense lawyer, Ed Chernoff, has said the doctor is prepared for the legal battle ahead.

"We'll make bail, we'll plead not guilty and we'll fight like hell," said Chernoff.

KPCC Wire Services contributed to this story.

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