LOS ANGELES — A jury cleared a concert promoter of negligence in a case that attempted to link the death of Michael Jackson to the company that promoted his ill-fated comeback shows.
The panel rejected a lawsuit brought by Jackson’s mother claiming AEG Live was negligent in hiring the doctor who killed Jackson with an overdose of a hospital anesthetic that the singer used as a sleep aid.
With its verdict, the panel also delivered a somewhat surprising message: Jurors did not believe Dr. Conrad Murray was unfit or incompetent to perform his duties involving Jackson.
The ruling on that question ended any further consideration on damages and who was at fault for the death.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the jury came out. They got it exactly right,” AEG Live lead defense attorney Marvin S. Putnam said after the verdict was read.
Katherine Jackson told reporters she was OK after the verdict.
A victory could have meant hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for Katherine Jackson and the singer’s three children and provided a rebuke of AEG Live, the nation’s second-largest concert promoter.
Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter after giving Jackson the overdose as he prepared for a series of comeback shows.
The case provided the closest look yet at Jackson’s drug use and his battles against chronic pain and insomnia. It also took jurors behind the scenes in the rough and tumble world of negotiations with one of the world’s most famous entertainers looking to solidify his legendary status after scandal interrupted his career.
Witnesses said he saw the “This Is It” concerts as a chance for personal redemption after being acquitted of child molestation.
But as the opening date of the shows approached, associates testified that he had bouts of insecurity and agonized over his inability to sleep. They said he turned to the drug propofol and found Murray, who was willing to buy it in bulk and administer it to him on a nightly basis even though it is not meant to be used outside operating rooms.
Testimony at the civil trial showed that only Jackson and Murray knew he was taking the drug.
In his closing argument, AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam told jurors that the company would have pulled the plug on the shows if they knew he was using the anesthetic.
“AEG would have never agreed to finance this tour if they knew Mr. Jackson was playing Russian roulette in his bedroom every night,”
Brian Panish, a lawyer for the Jackson family, countered that AEG Live was negligent by not looking far enough to find out what it needed to know about Murray. He claimed in his closing argument that the lure of riches turned the company and Murray into mercenaries who sacrificed the pop star’s life in a quest to boost their own fortunes.
Panish asked jurors: “Do people do things they shouldn’t do for money? People do it every day.”
He said Murray’s $150,000-a-month contract to care for Jackson was a lifeline to help him climb out of his financial troubles, which included $500,000 in debt. AEG Live, meanwhile, had only one interest — launching a world tour for the King of Pop that would yield untold millions in profits, the lawyer said.
AEG Live’s lawyers framed the case as being about personal choice, saying Jackson made bad choices about the drug that killed him and the doctor who provided it. They said he was the architect of his own demise and no one else can be blamed.
Putnam said Jackson insisted on hiring the cardiologist, despite objections from AEG Live.
“It was his money and he certainly wasn’t going to take no for an answer,” the lawyer said.
Putnam portrayed AEG Live and its executives as victims of deception by Jackson and Murray. He showed brief excerpts from the “This Is It” documentary to show that Jackson appeared in top form just 12 hours before he died.
“AEG Live did not have a crystal ball,” he said. “Dr. Murray and Mr. Jackson fooled everyone. They want to blame AEG for something no one saw.”
Jurors heard testimony from more than 50 witnesses, including Jackson’s mother and his eldest son, Prince, as well as days of testimony from AEG executives who were repeatedly asked about emails in which they discussed Jackson’s missed rehearsals and described Murray’s pay as a done deal.
They also heard about Jackson’s close relationship to many of his doctors, including Murray, who he first met in Las Vegas in 2007.
Katherine Jackson called the case a search for the truth about the death of her son and the trial featured potentially embarrassing revelations for both sides. AEG’s executives had their emails picked apart, revealing concerns that Jackson wouldn’t be able to perform the shows as planned, that a lawyer at their parent company referred to Michael Jackson as “the freak,” and that Jackson was derided even though the company had invested more than $30 million in his shows.
Jackson’s greatest hits were in heavy rotation throughout the trial, with jurors watching footage of him moonwalking across stages and playing to packed arenas around the globe, with some fans so overcome with emotion that some had to be carried out on stretchers. A world few saw was also on display, with private videos of Christmas mornings Jackson spent with his children and stories about his devotion to them being recounted throughout the trial.
AEG Live, meanwhile, laid out Jackson’s medical history, presenting testimony about his use of drugs, including the powerful painkiller Demerol, for pain stemming from an accident that occurred decades ago while he was filming a Pepsi commercial. Jackson had no trace of that drug in his system when he died.
The lawyers called witnesses who recounted Jackson’s use of propofol dating back to the 1990s. In 1997, two German doctors administered the anesthetic to help the singer sleep between shows in Munich.
A few years later, Jackson requested the anesthetic from a dental anesthesiologist who refused, as did another doctor who testified that Jackson kept a box of propofol in his bedroom at Neverland Ranch.
On the issue of possible damages, expert witnesses for the company said any estimate of Jackson’s future earnings were speculative, and they showed the panel that the singer was deeply in debt and consistently spent more than he earned.
In the verdict form, jurors were first asked to decide the central question of the case — whether AEG Live hired Murray to treat Jackson. During the trial, they heard evidence that AEG had drafted a contract that was signed by Murray. But there were no indications that it was signed by AEG Live or Jackson.
Attorneys for the singer’s mother argued that Jackson’s signature was not necessary, but the company’s attorneys said the contract required his consent to be binding.
Jackson’s mother and his three children are supported by his estate, which provides a comfortable lifestyle for them and erased hundreds of millions of dollars in debts by debuting new projects and releasing new music featuring the King of Pop.
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