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Michael Jackson's Autopsy Photos Allowed at Trial
Images of Michael Jackson in life and death will be shown to jurors at his doctor's trial, a judge ruled Thursday, after a prosecutor promised restraint while using autopsy photos that might upset the singer's family.
Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor also said he will allow prosecutors to screen segments of the concert movie "This Is It" for jurors in highly redacted form to show the pop star's mental and physical state in the days before his death.
"I don't think this should be entertainment," the judge said. "We should not feel deprived of our 99-cent iTunes if we don't hear the whole song."
Pastor said only two autopsy photos will be allowed of Jackson's body laid out on a coroner's examining table.
In one image, the singer is swathed in a hospital gown. In the other, he is nude, with portions of his anatomy obscured, prosecutors said.
"Although they are tragic, they are not gruesome or gory," Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said.
The defense had asked to bar autopsy photos, saying the images would inflame the passions of the jury.
Walgren, however, was adamant about the need to show Jackson's physical condition to bolster the prosecution claim that Jackson was healthy when he died of an overdose of the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives allegedly administered by defendant Dr. Conrad Murray.
"This is a homicide and we can't pretend it's not a homicide," Walgren said.
The judge agreed the photos were needed. He recalled testimony from the preliminary hearing in which witnesses said Jackson was exceedingly thin and one witness described him as looking like a hospice patient.
Walgren said he was aware that Jackson's family would be in court and said the pictures will be carefully displayed. When he showed them to Pastor, the judge found they were not graphic or gruesome, as the defense contended.
Regarding the video footage, Pastor said only relevant portions of Jackson's performance on "Earth Song" and "The Way You Make Me Feel" can be shown to jurors.
"Earth Song" is a colorful tribute to the environment that prosecutors say was the last piece Jackson recorded the day before he died.
"What's admitted will be Michael Jackson singing. What will not be received will be a picture of a cute little girl and orcas and flower and fauna," the judge said.
Defense attorney Edward Chernoff objected to showing the film footage, claiming it was edited to present Jackson in the best light.
Pastor said prosecutors can only show footage from Jackson's rehearsals on the two days before his death on June 25, 2009.
Murray, a Houston-based cardiologist, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Authorities have accused him of giving Jackson a lethal dose of propofol in the bedroom of his rented mansion.
Murray's attorneys have suggested in recent months that the singer may have given himself the fatal dose.
In other rulings, Pastor said:
• Prosecutors can have several of Murray's mistresses testify during the trial, but some salacious details should be omitted. For instance, Pastor said he didn't want to hear any references to the strip clubs where Murray met some of them.
• Prosecutors cannot refer to Murray's child support issues or how many children he has.
• Defense attorneys cannot probe Jackson's financial condition, saying it would turn the trial into "a slug fest which inflames the jury and has no end." The defense has claimed Jackson was despondent over debts.
• Ruled out the use of statements made by Murray to his forensic experts in which he appeared to change some of the details previously given to police about Jackson's treatment.
The judge said experts cannot act as "parrots" to get hearsay statements of the defendant before the jury.
The prosecution suggested if Murray wants to tell his story, he should do it from the witness stand.
Opening statements were scheduled for May 9.
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