Michael Jackson Wrongful-Death Case Goes to Jury
The family of the late King of Pop is suing concert promoter AEG Live for negligently hiring Dr. Conrad Murray, who gave the singer a fatal dose of propofol days before his This Is It comeback tour was slated to begin.
LOS ANGELES – The company producing Michael Jackson's This Is It comeback concerts was a money-making machine run by executives who did not care about the star's well-being, a lawyer told jurors Thursday.
Attorney Brian Panish used his rebuttal argument in the negligence case to urge the jury to find that AEG Live LLC hired Dr. Conrad Murray to be Jackson's physician without considering whether he was fit for the job.
Panish did not deny that Jackson had a role in the hiring but said the singer should be found to share only 20 percent of the blame.
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. Murray is in prison.
Panish ended his arguments before lunch and the case went to the jury later in the day.
In his speech to jurors, Panish suggested they might decide there was shared negligence in hiring Murray.
"Think of a bicycle built for two," he said. "Both can cause the harm."
He said Michael Jackson's liability would be for finding Murray and asking for his use as the tour doctor for his concerts. He did not blame Jackson for seeking the anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid and instead cited AEG for hiring the doctor who gave it to him.
"Propofol might not be the best idea," Panish said. "But if you have a competent doctor, you're not going to die."
The anesthetic is intended for use in operations at a hospital. Murray was administering it nightly in Jackson's bedroom.
Panish claimed that AEG executives such as CEO Randy Phillips and co-CEO Paul Gongaware disdained Jackson and reminded jurors of an e-mail in which an AEG attorney referred to Jackson as "the freak."
"They're a money-making machine," Panish said. "All they care about is how much money is this freak going to make for them?
"It's not right, ladies and gentlemen," Panish said. "It would not be right to allow Gongaware and Phillips to skate down the street and click their champagne glasses at AEG Live."
Both executives were initially named as defendants but were dismissed from the case during the trial.
Panish showed jurors details of a contract drafted by AEG Live but only signed by Murray. He said it proved that AEG wanted to control the doctor.
The plaintiff's last argument came a day after a lawyer for AEG Live 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 the cardiologist, despite objections from AEG Live.
The company told Jackson there were great doctors in London but the singer would not be deterred, Putnam said.
"It was his money and he certainly wasn't going to take no for an answer," he 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."
If AEG Live had known about the propofol treatments, it would have pulled the plug on the planned tour, the lawyer said.
"AEG would have never agreed to finance this tour if they knew Mr. Jackson was playing Russian roulette in his bedroom every night," Putnam told jurors.
If jurors find AEG didn't hire Murray, their work will be done quickly and they need not decide four other questions.
A unanimous verdict is not required in the case. Only nine of the 12 jurors must agree.