Michael Jackson back in spotlight as civil trial begins

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Jackson’s words and music rang through a courtroom once again — this time at the start of a wrongful death trial — as a lawyer tried to show jurors the pop star’s loving relationship with his mother and children.

Jackson’s praise for his mother brought tears to her eyes, a tender moment on Monday, when her superstar son was repeatedly called an addict by lawyers on both sides of her lawsuit against concert giant AEG Live.

Jurors listening to opening statements were given a brief tour of Jackson’s life through photos of him with his children and videos of his performances. While Jackson’s song, “You Are My Life,” filled the courtroom, jurors watched footage of a Christmas morning when he gave his children a dog.

Jackson’s troubles were also on prominent display, with attorneys describing his financial troubles and his struggles with prescription drug abuse.

Attorneys read emails describing the singer as unhealthy and in need of a serious intervention. A defense attorney for AEG Live at one point flashed a slide listing 45 medical professionals. He said Jackson had consulted with each of them over the years and requested doses of the powerful anesthetic propofol from some.

Both sides concluded opening statements and testimony was expected to begin on Tuesday.

Jackson died in June 2009 from an overdose of propofol. A year later his mother, Katherine Jackson, sued AEG claiming the company failed to properly investigate a doctor who was giving it to him. The former physician, Conrad Murray, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and remains jailed.

Murray, AEG and Michael Jackson were part of an intricate puzzle that plaintiff’s lawyer Brian Panish intends to piece together for the jury in the coming weeks. He told the panel that AEG, motivated by its desire to overtake a competitor, created a conflicted situation for Murray in which he chose a huge payday over properly caring for Jackson.

The company also ignored Murray’s troubled finances and Jackson’s string of health problems as he prepared for a series of comeback concerts titled “This Is It,” Panish said.

“They didn’t care who got lost in the wash,” Panish told the jury. He repeated the adage, “the show must go on,” to describe AEG’s actions toward both Jackson and Murray.

Defense attorney Marvin S. Putnam countered that the company couldn’t have known Jackson was using propofol or the depth of his addiction. He said Jackson hid the addiction from his family, and medical professionals were barred from telling anyone about it due to doctor-patient confidentiality.

“The truth is, Michael Jackson fooled everyone,” Putnam said. “He made sure that no one — nobody — knew his deepest, darkest secrets.”

He told the panel that it was Jackson who wanted Murray’s treatments, and the singer ultimately was responsible for his death.

“This case is about personal choices,” Putnam said. “Also, it was about his personal responsibility. There’s no question that Michael Jackson’s death was a terrible tragedy. I believe the evidence will show it was not a tragedy of AEG Live’s making.”

Panish urged the jury of six men and six women to reject placing blame on Jackson.

“Michael paid the ultimate price. He died,” Panish said. “Michael has taken responsibility.”

Jackson died before signing Murray’s $150,000 a month contract to serve as his tour doctor.

During his opening remarks, Panish displayed several emails between AEG executives discussing Jackson’s health.

One was sent by AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips before Jackson’s news conference announcing his “This Is It” shows. The message to Tim Leiweke, former CEO of AEG’S parent company, stated that Jackson was drunk and refusing to address fans.

“This is the scariest thing I have ever seen,” Phillips wrote to Leiweke. “He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it’s show time. He’s scared to death.”

The trial will feature testimony from the children’s parents, Debbie Rowe, who was married to Jackson and who Putnam said witnessed the entertainer receiving propofol treatments in the 1990s.

“Ms. Rowe knew this was incredibly dangerous,” Putnam said, and she insisted on staying by Jackson’s side while he was under the effects of the anesthetic.

The case also might feature testimony from Jackson’s mother and the singer’s two oldest children, Prince and Paris.

Panish told jurors it would be up to them to decide any possible damage award to Jackson’s mother and children. If Jackson had lived, he could have earned at least $1.5 billion, the lawyer said.


AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this report. Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP .

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.