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Conrad Murray Trial: Opening Statements vs. Closing Arguments

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 31, 2011 6:43 AM

The Conrad Murray trial is winding down, with closing arguments scheduled for sometime in the next few days.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will spend countless hours perfecting their final arguments, as they can make or break the case.

Why are closing arguments so important? And how are they different from opening statements? What rules must the attorneys follow?

Unlike closing arguments, opening statements are not an opportunity to argue the facts. Attorneys are expected to outline their case for the judge and jury.

They explain the core disputes and provide a roadmap of how the trial will unfold. Attorneys will also explain who will testify, and how each witness will prove their version of events. This helps the jury focus on the evidence and the story being told.

Attorneys are also barred from commenting on the veracity or strength of evidence during opening statements.

For example, prosecutor David Walgren asserted in his opening statement that Conrad Murray was negligent and failed to exercise proper care. He planned to show this with testimony from Michael Jackson's choreographer, who was to testify about incidents where Murray brushed off concerns about the pop star's health.

He only explained the state's version of the facts, and how they would be proved. No comments about the witness' character or defense evidence were made.

In closing arguments, such commentary would be allowed. Prosecutor Walgren can say that Murray's character witnesses failed to disprove his behavior towards Jackson. And that the choreographer is a more credible witness.

Closing arguments are ultimately the time to remind the jury of the evidence, and argue for a client's version of the events. Attorneys are free to point out holes in their opponent's case; question the credibility of witnesses and evidence; and draw conclusions and make reasonable inferences.

This is what will be happening during Conrad Murray's closing arguments. The verdict may well be riding in the balance.

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