Jackson back in spotlight as civil trial begins
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Jackson’s words and music rang through a courtroom once again on Monday — this time at the start of wrongful death trial — as a lawyer tried to show jurors the pop singer’s loving relationship with his mother and children.
Jackson’s praise for his mother brought tears to her eyes, a tender moment in a day in which her superstar son was repeatedly called an addict by lawyers on both sides of her civil lawsuit against concert giant AEG Live.
Jurors listening to Monday’s opening status were given a brief tour of Jackson’s life through photos of him with his children and videos of his performances. Jurors watched a video of one Christmas morning when Jackson bought his children a dog while his song, “You Are My Life,” filled the courtroom.
Yet Jackson’s troubles were also on prominent display, with attorneys describing his financial troubles and his struggles with prescription drug abuse.
Attorneys showed videos of Jackson ably performing his hits, only to moments later read emails describing the singer as unhealthy and in need of a serious intervention. A defense attorney for AEG Live at one point flashed a slide with 45 medical professionals he said Jackson consulted over the years, some of whom he requested doses of the powerful anesthetic propofol.
Both sides concluded opening statements Monday and testimony began on Tuesday.
Jackson died in June 2009 from an overdose of propofol, and a year later his mother sued AEG claiming the company failed to properly investigate the doctor who was giving it to him. The former physician, Conrad Murray, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and remains jailed.
Murray, AEG and Jackson were part of an intricate puzzle that plaintiff’s lawyer Brian Panish hopes to piece together for the jury in the coming weeks. He told the panel that AEG, motivated by its desire overtake a competitor, created a conflicted situation for Murray in which he chose a huge payday over properly caring for Jackson.
They ignored Murray’s troubled finances and Jackson’s string of health problems as he prepared for a series of comeback concerts titled “This Is It,” Panish said.
“They didn’t care who got lost in the wash,” Panish told the jury. He repeated the adage “the show must go on,” to describe AEG’s actions toward both Jackson and Murray.
Defense attorney Marvin S. Putnam however said the company couldn’t have known that Jackson was using propofol, or the depths of his addiction. He said Jackson hid his propofol addiction from his family and medical professionals were barred from telling anyone about it due to doctor-patient confidentiality.
“The truth is, Michael Jackson fooled everyone,” Putnam said. “He made sure that no one — nobody — knew his deepest, darkest secrets.”
He told the panel that it was Jackson who wanted Murray’s treatments, and the singer ultimately was responsible for his death.
“This case is about personal choices,” Putnam said. “Also, it was about his personal responsibility. There’s no question that Michael Jackson’s death was a terrible tragedy. I believe the evidence will show it was not a tragedy of AEG Live’s making.”
Putnam urged the jury of six men and six women to reject placing blame on Jackson.
“Michael paid the ultimate price. He died,” Panish said. “Michael has taken responsibility.”
Jackson died before signing Murray’s $150,000 a month contract to serve as his tour doctor.
During his opening remarks, Panish displayed several emails between AEG executives discussing Jackson’s health.
One of the emails was sent by AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips before Jackson’s news conference announcing his “This Is It” shows. The message to Tim Leiweke, former CEO of AEG’S parent company, stated that Jackson was drunk and refusing to address fans.
“This is the scariest thing I have ever seen,” Phillips wrote Leiweke. “He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it’s show time. He’s scared to death.”
The case may feature testimony from Jackson’s mother and the singer’s two oldest children, Prince and Paris.
The trial will also feature testimony from the children’s parents, Debbie Rowe, who was married to Jackson and who Putnam said witnessed the entertainer receiving propofol treatments in the 1990s.
“Ms. Rowe knew this was incredibly dangerous,” Putnam said, and insisted on staying by Jackson’s side while he was under the anesthetic’s effects.
None of what the attorneys presented Monday is considered evidence, and Katherine Jackson’s attorneys are expected to spend the next several weeks questioning witnesses to try to prove their case.
Panish told jurors it would be up to them to decide any award to Jackson’s mother and children, but said had Jackson lived he could have earned at least $1.5 billion.