October 3, 2013

Jury rejects case against Jackson promoter

By ANTHONY McCARTNEY and LINDA DEUTSCH, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — More than four years after Michael Jackson’s death, a jury on Wednesday rejected the notion that the promoter of his ill-fated comeback concerts was linked to his demise, ending a long-running case that offered an unprecedented look into the singer’s addiction struggles, concert preparations and his role as a parent.

The latest chapter in the often bizarre Jackson saga was a case stemming from a lawsuit filed by his mother against AEG Live LLC as she sought to financially punish the company for hiring the doctor convicted of killing her superstar son with an overdose of the anesthetic propofol.

At five months, it was the longest of any trial involving Jackson and gave the panel an inside look of his homes, concerts and even the offices of his doctors.

Jurors concluded that the case had many tragic elements but stopped short of awarding the singer’s family hundreds of millions of dollars.

Katherine Jackson sued AEG Live in 2010 claiming the company hired her son’s final doctor, Conrad Murray, and created a conflict of interest by agreeing to pay the debt-saddled cardiologist $150,000 a month to work with her son while he prepared for the “This Is It” concerts in London.

During the trial, AEG presented a parade of Jackson’s physicians but also endured harsh scrutiny of its own business practices and whether it did enough to investigate Murray’s background.

Jurors determined that AEG hired Murray but said he was fit and competent to serve as a general practitioner to Jackson.

“That doesn’t mean we felt he was ethical,” the jury’s foreman Gregg Barden said after the verdict.

Barden acknowledged the tragic circumstances of Jackson’s death that left his three children to be cared for by his mother.

“It took the tragic passing of a tremendous father, son and brother for us to even be here. And of course nobody wanted that,” Barden said. “We reached a verdict that we understand that not everybody is going to agree with. But the decision was reached after very careful consideration.”

Katherine Jackson’s attorneys said they were disappointed by the verdict but would consider further legal options.

AEG lawyers lauded the jury’s decision.

“AEG didn’t do anything wrong and would not allow themselves to be shaken down,” lead defense attorney Marvin S. Putnam said.

The verdict was the latest — but likely not the last — chapter in the saga of Jackson’s life. His estate still needs to be settled, and one of his longtime supporters has accused the singer of sexually abusing him while he was a child.

Neither case, however, is likely to present the portrait of Jackson that emerged from his mother’s case against AEG Live.

Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter after giving Jackson an overdose of the anesthetic propofol as he prepared for the comeback shows. Witnesses at the trial said Jackson saw the 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 as a sleep aid 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 Putnam told jurors the company would have pulled the plug on the shows if executives knew Jackson 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,” Putnam said.

Kevin Boyle, one of Katherine Jackson’s attorneys, said after the verdicts that the case revealed more than just the entertainer’s private life.

“We think that what we’ve done with this case is prove some things that are important for the Jackson family and for the concert industry and the sports industry with regards to treatment by doctors,” Boyle said.

Brian Panish, a lawyer for the Jackson family, argued in the trial’s final days 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.

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.

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 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.

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 his 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.

Jurors ended the case before reaching any questions about whether Jackson was partially responsible for his own death and at least one juror said that wasn’t a question they needed to answer.

“I don’t want to say whose fault it is,” Bryant Carino, 36, said. “I’m not one to point fingers.”

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Associated Press Writer Greg Risling contributed to this report. McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP