Michael Jackson doctor trial delayed to September

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The high-profile manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s personal doctor was delayed on Monday until September at the request of defense attorneys.

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With just a week before the scheduled start of opening statements, the judge in the case agreed to give defense attorneys more time to seek and prepare expert medical witnesses.

Opening arguments in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray had been scheduled for May 9, and jury selection was already under way.

Murray has pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of the “Thriller” singer, who died in June 2009 from an overdose of the powerful anesthetic propofol.

Prosecutors said last week they would be calling an additional medical expert to counter what are expected to be arguments by Murray’s defense team that the pop star swallowed propofol by himself.

Murray’s lawyers said they needed more time to prepare to cross examine the new witness.

Murray has admitted giving Jackson propofol as a sleep aid as he rehearsed for a comeback tour, but denies it was a fatal dose. Murray was with Jackson when the 50 year-old singer died at his rented Los Angeles home on June 25, 2009.

The physician’s defense team had asked for just a two week delay. But Los Angeles Superior Court judge Michael Pastor opted for a longer postponement to ensure that all pending issues were resolved. He set the new trial date as September 8.

“The court is very mindful of judicial efficiency and the expense that has occurred. But first and foremost is justice,” Pastor said.

Murray agreed to the delay. The charge of involuntary manslaughter accuses Murray of being so negligent in his care of Jackson that he was responsible for the singer’s death. Murray could face up to four years in prison if convicted.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant, editing by Dan Whitcomb