Michael Jackson's doctor pleaded not guilty Tuesday at his arraignment. The trial is set for March 28.
Dr. Conrad Murray faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the superstar's death.
"Your honor, I am an innocent man," Murray told Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor. "I definitely plead not guilty."
If convicted, Murray could face a maximum of four years in prison. But his defense is not just an effort to avoid prison; it's a fight for his professional life. Pastor suspended his California medical license pending the outcome of the trial. A conviction on a felony could mean that Murray could never practice medicine again.
During the preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented evidence in an attempt to prove that the doctor's gross negligence killed Jackson. Twenty-two witnesses took the stand.
"It was really unnecessary," said NBCLA legal analyst Royal Oakes. "But here, all those witnesses, all that evidence, they were really trying to have a dress rehearsal for a trial."
In the six-day preliminary hearing, a portrait emerged of a doctor trying to help his famous client overcome debilitating insomnia with propofol, a powerful surgical anesthetic not intended for home use. Jackson had used it before and demanded it, calling it his "milk."
"We're going to go to trial,'' said defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan. "I think our case is really solid. We were very pleased with the way the evidence went at the preliminary hearing... This should result in an acquittal."
Murray's Defense Options
Legal experts said several defenses are available to Murray. Among them is the suggestion by his lawyers that Jackson, desperate for sleep, self-administered the fatal dose of propofol while Murray was out of the room.
That theory would mean he either injected propofol into an IV line or swallowed the drug, which is meant to be administered intravenously.
Prosecution experts are likely to challenge that scenario. They also could say Murray was negligent in leaving the drug on a night stand where Jackson could reach it.
"They've got to explain why Dr. Murray was giving him propofol in the first place, in a setting where it is not normally given,'' said criminal defense attorney Steve Cron, who has been watching the case.
He said Murray's team has many questions to answer, including why he left the singer without a monitor, why he delayed calling 911, why he attempted CPR on a bed rather than the floor, and why he did not tell paramedics he had given Jackson propofol.
Although it was risky, Cron said Murray may have to testify in his own defense.
"My guess is he will have to explain some of these things and present his persona to the jury as a reasonable, competent doctor," Cron said.