DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) — The judge in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial gave final instructions Wednesday afternoon, and then the jury started deliberations.
Katherine Jackson’s attorney Brian Panish said Michael Jackson was not ready just weeks before he was set to begin his London tour. He contended that AEG Live kept pushing forward, regardless.
Panish is asking the jury to award Michael Jackson’s three children and Karherine Jackson $1.5 billion in damages in the wrongful death negligence lawsuit against AEG over the death of the King of Pop.
He has told the jury that AEG pushed the pop superstar to be ready for his planned 50-concert series in London and hired Dr. Conrad Murray as his personal physician without considering whether he was fit for the job. He said AEG hired Murray despite Jackson’s known history of prescription drug abuse.
Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter after giving Jackson an overdose of the anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid as Jackson fought chronic insomnia.
During his rebuttal, Panish focused on emails between AEG executives referring to Jackson wanting Murray to care for him during the concerts in London. He also showed jurors details of a contract drafted by AEG but only signed by Murray. He said it proved that AEG wanted to control the doctor.
Panish’s rebuttal came a day after a lawyer for AEG told jurors that Jackson was the architect of his own demise and no one else can be blamed. Defense attorney Marvin Putnam said Jackson insisted on hiring Murray, despite objections from AEG.
Putnam argues it was Jackson who hired Murray and that AEG bore no responsibility for the quality of care he provided. He maintains all AEG wanted was to put on a concert. AEG told Jackson there were great doctors in London but the singer would not be deterred, Putnam said.
Putnam portrayed AEG and its executives as victims of deception by Jackson and Murray. He showed excerpts from the “This Is It” documentary to show that Jackson appeared in top physical form just 12 hours before he died. He said if AEG had known about the propofol treatments, it would have pulled the plug on the planned tour.
The defense invited the jurors to view the movie. The plaintiffs told the panel, “don’t bother.”
“Who made the movie? AEG Live,” said Panish.
Panish told the jury that the AEG defense attacked Jackson and demeaned Jackson, calling him a “freak.”
The word was found in an AEG email from no one involved in the lawsuit. Panish repeated it several times. Legal analyst Barry Edwards says fiery words do stir passion, but it can cut both ways.
“Sometimes it becomes very offensive for them,” said Edwards.
The defense says the law backs AEG and that Murray had a clean medical record when Jackson brought him on board and that the doctor’s actions later were unforeseeable.
“They want to focus on when they hired him but it’s the entire time,” said Panish.
The jury will meet from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday until they reach a decision. A unanimous verdict is not required in the case since it is a civil trial. Only nine of the 12 jurors must agree.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Los Angeles (CNN) — Jurors began deliberations Thursday in the Michael Jackson wrongful-death trial, potentially bringing the contentious case to a close after five months of testimony and three days of closing arguments.
The 12 jurors spent two hours in the jury room Thursday afternoon before ending their day; they will return Friday morning for more deliberations.
Katherine Jackson’s lawyer delivered his final arguments in the AEG Live trial Thursday morning, delivering his rebuttal to defense closing arguments.
AEG Live’s Marvin Putnam had asked jurors to find Michael Jackson responsible for his death, not the company that promoted and produced his comeback concerts in 2009.
Jackson’s mother and three children are suing AEG Live, contending the company was liable in the pop icon’s drug overdose death because its executives negligently hired, retained or supervised Dr. Conrad Murray.
“Plaintiffs want you to hold a concert promoter liable for Michael Jackson’s overdose in his bedroom at night, behind locked doors on June 25, 2009,” Putnam told jurors. “An overdose of the drug administered to Mr. Jackson by his longtime doctor — Dr. Murray — who he’d been seeing for years, a doctor he brought to Los Angeles from Las Vegas.”
“How dare they come up here and accept no responsibility and blame it all on Michael,” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish said in his rebuttal.
Panish suggested that Jackson’s share of blame was 20%, “but the rest goes on AEG.”
When the trial began five months ago, Putnam warned he would show “ugly stuff” and reveal Jackson’s “deepest, darkest secret.”
The revelations that jurors heard from 58 witnesses over 83 days of testimony spanning 21 weeks included details of Jackson’s drug use and his shopping for a doctor to give him the surgical anesthetic propofol that he thought would give him sleep.
“He was nearly half a billion dollars in debt,” Putnam argued Wednesday. “His mother’s house was near foreclosure, we didn’t know that then. What else do we know now? That Mr. Jackson spent decades shopping for doctors to give him the painkillers he wanted. Mr. Jackson made sure we didn’t know that.”
Panish, the lead Jackson lawyer, conceded in his closing Tuesday that the singer may have some fault for his own death, but said “it’s about shared responsibility.”
Jackson did use prescription painkillers and was warned that using propofol at home to sleep was risky, “but he never had a problem until Dr. Conrad Murray was working and until Conrad Murray negotiated with AEG Live,” Panish argued.
The AEG Live lawyer argued Wednesday that Jackson should take the full blame. “The sad truth is Mr. Jackson’s death was caused by his choices and it would have happened no matter what — with or without AEG Live.”
The Jackson lawyer urged jurors to award the family between $1 billion and $2 billion in damages for what he called AEG Live’s share of liability in Jackson’s death — to replace what Jackson would have earned touring, had he lived, and for the personal suffering from the loss of a son and father.
Putnam told jurors Wednesday that was “an absurd number.”
Katherine Jackson testified that she filed the wrongful death lawsuit three years ago against AEG Live “because I want to know what really happened to my son.”
Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s propofol overdose death.
The judge is allowing a television camera in court for the closing arguments and verdict.
Burden of “Poof”
Panish — a former college football player who has a reputation for winning large damage awards — appeared more aggressive in his rebuttal than in his initial closing arguments delivered Tuesday.
In what may become a much-repeated video highlight, Panish joked about how his AEG LIve counterpart had accused him of making up the estimate of $59 million that MIchael Jackson could have been expected to have given his mother and children in support had he lived.
“Poof! Poof! I just made it up!” Panish said dramatically as he pointed to Putnam, sitting at the AEG Live defense table. The line and gesture drew a laugh from some jurors.
Panish showed jurors that the figure was actually from a opinion provided by a financial expert that AEG Live hired to analyze the issue.
Putnam, in his closing Wednesday, referenced the expert’s lower-end estimate of $21 million. The numbers could be important in guiding the jury if it decides to award damages to the Jacksons.
AEG Live’s defense
Murray treated Michael Jackson and his children for minor illnesses while they lived in Las Vegas for three years, before the singer returned to Los Angeles to prepare for his “This Is It” comeback tour. It was Jackson — not AEG Live executives — who chose Murray to be his full-time doctor for his tour, the company’s lawyers contend.
AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware negotiated to pay Murray $150,000 a month only because of Jackson’s request to have his doctor with him as he performed 50 shows at London’s O2 Arena, they argue.
“He told them ‘We’re bringing this doctor,’ ” Putnam said. “This was a choice Mr. Jackson made. He was a grown man.”
AEG Live executives tried to talk Jackson out of taking an American doctor with him on tour, suggesting he could save money by using a physician in London, Putnam said.
“But Mr. Jackson was undeterred,” he said. “Ultimately, it was his money, his doctor, his choice. He certainly wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
There was no need to check Murray’s background because he was a licensed, successful doctor who was known to Jackson, Putnam said. “All AEG Live knew was Dr. Murray was Mr. Jackson’s longtime doctor.”
A key argument in the Jackson case is that AEG Live was negligent by not ordering a financial background check of Murray, which would have revealed he was in a dire financial situation and not successful. His desperation to keep his lucrative job led Murray to violate his Hippocratic Oath to do no harm by using the dangerous propofol infusions to put Jackson to sleep each night for two months, Jackson lawyers argue.
AEG Live executives had no way of knowing Murray was treating Jackson’s insomnia with propofol in the privacy of his bedroom, their lawyers contend. Jackson was a secretive addict, adept at keeping family, friends and other doctors in the dark about his medical treatments, they argue.
But two doctors testified that they told Gongaware about Jackson’s abuse of painkillers and his insomnia during tours in the 1990s, when the AEG Live executive served as tour manager. Jackson lawyers argue Gongaware, who was the top producer on the new tour, should have known that Jackson could suffer the same problems in 2009.
The deterioration of Jackson’s health over the two months he was being treated by Murray was a red flag that there was a problem, but AEG Live executives negligently ignored the warning, Jackson lawyers argue. By June 19, he was frail, suffering chills, unable to do his trademark dances and paranoid, according to testimony.
“Everyone believed at the time that a 50-year-old man, who hadn’t performed in a decade was tired, out of shape and very nervous,” Putnam argued Wednesday. “That’s what they believed at the time and it makes sense.”
AEG Live would avoid a negative verdict if it is able to convince at least four of the 12 jurors that it did not hire Murray. It is the first of 16 questions on the jury verdict form. If jurors answer it with a “no” — that AEG Live did not hire the doctor — they would end their deliberations and the trial.
An AEG Live lawyer e-mailed an employment contract to Murray on the morning of June 24, 2009. Murray signed it and faxed it back to the company that day. But the signature lines for AEG Live’s CEO and for Michael Jackson were never signed since Jackson died the next day.
But Panish, the lead Jackson lawyer, told jurors Tuesday that all the elements of an oral contract — “just as valid as a written contract” — were in place when Jackson died.
Murray had been treating Jackson for two months and the written contract stated that his start day was May 1, 2009. A series of e-mail exchanges involving Murray and AEG Live executives and lawyers support this argument, Panish said.
Blame and damages
If the jury concludes AEG Live has liability, it would have to decide how much the company should pay in economic and personal damages to Jackson’s mother and children. They can use estimates of Jackson’s “lost earnings capacity” — the amount of money he could reasonably be expected to have earned if he had lived — to guide them.
AEG Live expert Eric Briggs testified it was “speculative” that Jackson would have even completed another tour because of his drug use, damaged reputation and history of failed projects. He suggested the star may never have earned another dime.
Putnam’s closing argument about damages must overcome the impression left on jurors Tuesday, when Panish played a video montage of Jackson performances.
“That is, I think, the best evidence of if Michael Jackson could have sold tickets — not what Mr. Briggs would tell you,” Panish told jurors.
Panish suggested jurors pick a number between $900 million and $1.6 billion for economic damages. They should add on another $290 million for non-economic damages — or personal damages, he said.
Putnam argued that the number, if the jury finds AEG Live liable, should be closer to $21 million, the amount of money AEG Live’s expert calculated Jackson would have given his mother and three children over the next 16 years. He couldn’t have given them more because he had a $400 million debt that was getting deeper, he said.
“If Mr. Jackson had lived, it’s hard to see how he would ever have dug himself out of that whole,” Putnam said.
The last question on the verdict form asks jurors to assign a percentage that they believe represents Michael Jackson’s share of blame in his death. The total damages owed by AEG Live would be reduced by that percentage.
While AEG Live lawyers did not suggest a percentage, Panish suggested jurors reduce the damage award by 20% to reflect Jackson’s share of blame.