Jury says Michael Jackson’s concert promoter not liable for drug overdose death
UPDATE: 5:42 pm – A Los Angeles jury decided Wednesday that AEG Live hired Dr. Conrad Murray, but also concluded that the concert promoter was not liable for Michael Jackson’s drug overdose death. The verdict brings the five-month-long trial to a close.
LOS ANGELES — The jury in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial has informed the court that it has reached a verdict. The decision on if concert promoter AEG Live is liable in Jackson’s death is expected to be read around 5:30 pm CT
Jurors deciding if a concert promoter is liable in Michael Jackson’s death were on their fourth day of deliberations Wednesday.
The panel of 12 worked nearly 11 hours since closing arguments Thursday without reaching a verdict, a fact that might offer encouragement to the lawyers for Jackson’s mother and three children.
A “no” decision on the first of 16 questions on their verdict form — Did AEG Live hire Dr. Conrad Murray — would have immediately ended the trial without a need to consider the remaining 15 questions that concern negligence and damages.
If they’ve already completed work on the first question in nearly 11 hours of deliberations, it would represent a major hurdle for the Jacksons’ case in the five-month-long wrongful death trial.
Katherine Jackson and her grandchildren Prince, Paris and Blanket contend AEG Live is responsible for the pop icon’s death because it negligently hired, retained or supervised the doctor convicted in his death.
Jackson died of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Dr. Conrad Murray told investigators he was using to treat the singer’s insomnia so he could rest for rehearsals. Murray is set to be released from jail later this month after serving two years for involuntary manslaughter.
The death happened just days before Jackson’s comeback tour — promoted and produced by AEG Live — was set to debut in London in the summer of 2009.
Question No. 1
Did AEG Live hire Murray? The company’s lawyers contend Jackson chose Murray, who had treated him for three years as a family physician, but Jackson lawyers argue the promoters chose to negotiate their own contract with the doctor so they could control him.
A so-called “smoking gun” e-mail sent by AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware 11 days before Jackson died said, “We want to remind (Murray) that it is AEG, not MJ, who is paying his salary. We want to remind him what is expected of him.”
The Jacksons also point to a television interview soon after Jackson died in which AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips said AEG Live “hired” Murray.
If jurors say yes to the hiring question, deliberations then turn to the questions of negligence. Were AEG Live executives negligent in dealing with Murray and did their negligence contribute significantly to Jackson’s death?
AEG Live lawyers argue they had no way of knowing that Murray — licensed to practice in four states and never sued for malpractice — was a risk to Jackson. The singer was a secretive drug addict who kept even his closest relatives in the dark about his use of propofol to sleep, they contend.
Jackson lawyers contend the company’s agreement with Murray created a medical conflict of interest that led him to break his Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Murray, who was $1 million in debt, was pressured to deliver the risky treatments or else possibly lose the $150,000 monthly salary, they argue.
Executives ignored a series of warning signs that Jackson was at risk in his last weeks, including deteriorating health that included weight loss, inability to perform his trademark dances or remember lyrics to his standard songs, and paranoia, the Jacksons argue.
A sleep expert testified that the nightly propofol infusions robbed Jackson of vital REM sleep, which caused the deterioration.
Blame and damages
If jurors reach a decision that AEG Live is liable, then they’ll consider other questions to determine how much in damages the promoter must pay Katherine, Prince, Paris and Blanket Jackson.
Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish suggested a range between $1 billion and $2 billion to replace the earnings lost by Jackson’s death at age 50 and the non-economic — or personal — damages from the loss of a father and son.
The damage award, however, would be reduced by the percentage of blame jurors decide Michael Jackson shares in his death. The Jackson lawyer suggested in closing arguments Thursday that they assigned 20% of the liability to Jackson.
Jurors appeared engaged and entertained through 21 weeks of the trial, which included dramatic testimony by Jackson’s mother, son and former wife. Several jurors even applauded at the end of testimony by famed choreographer-director Kenny Ortega.
Their first notes to the judge Friday indicated that Juror No. 6 had been chosen as presiding juror — or foreman. He is a high school physical education teacher who heads to the football field after each day of court to coach a team.
They also asked for 12 copies of the written contract AEG Live sent to Murray, a copy of the “This Is It” film — which documents Jackson’s last rehearsals — and a DVD player.
A Jackson lawyer suggested outside of court that it would be a good sign for his side If deliberations last more than a few days — since it indicates jurors have moved past the key initial questions.