Jurors defend verdict in Michael Jackson wrongful death trial, fans protest
LOS ANGELES — Jurors in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial defended their verdict on Wednesday, explaining why they rejected claims that AEG Live was negligent in hiring Conrad Murray, the doctor who killed Jackson with a drug overdose.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, jurors stressed that legal instructions led them to absolve the concert promoter of liability in Jackson’s death. They were asked to answer questions accessing the defendant’s wrongdoing, and felt the phrasing supported its case.
At the same time, they admitted Murray’s medical principles were skewed.
Related: Conrad Murray relieved
“The court gave us a series of questions to answer, and in each question, it didn’t just stop with, ‘Is Conrad Murray competent?’” Jury foreman Gregg Barden told theGrio at the press conference. “’It asked ‘Was Conrad Murray competent for the job he was hired to do?’ Conrad Murray was hired to be a general practitioner. Conrad Murray had a license. He graduated from an accredited college. We felt he was competent to do the job of being a general practitioner.”
Subsequently, Barden clarified that the jury did not necessarily support Murray’s practices.
“Maybe had the word ethical been in the question, there could have been a different outcome,” Barden remarked. “But because it was for the job he was hired to do, that’s what we had to focus on.”
He added that their verdict did not “vindicate” Murray’s services.
Debating two questions
Barden stated that the first question, which asked jurors whether AEG Live had hired Murray, took substantial discussion, but the twelve members were able to reach a unanimous decision that the corporation employed the doctor to care for Jackson.
The second question asked if Murray was capable for the job, and proved “confusing” for the panel. After seeking clarification, the jury voted 10-2 that AEG was not negligent in hiring the doctor.
As a result, the jury did not have to move forward answering additional queries, some of which regarded damages to the plaintiff.
While Barden stated he believed jurors made the right decision, he described the process as exhausting and stressful, and recalled scouring through videos, emails, “thousands of documents” and “five months of testimony.”
Other members nodded their heads in agreement.
“If AEG had known what was going on behind closed doors, it would have made a world of a difference,” Kevin Smith, a second juror, said. “Michael Jackson was pretty used to getting his own way. He was a big star. He had all these doctors who wanted to be his doctor. He could pretty much get what he wanted. If anybody said no, well, they were out of the mix.”
Smith added, “How could AEG have done anything about it if they were kept in the dark?”
The lawsuit, filed by Katherine Jackson and the singer’s three children, sought to determine whether AEG Live was responsible for her son’s death. She argued that the promoter hired Murray to be the singer’s physician without considering whether he was fit for the job.
Jackson died of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Murray claimed he was using to treat the singer’s insomnia.
A jury found Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s 2011 criminal trial, and the doctor is currently finishing up a two-year sentence in jail.
He will be released from prison in October, two years ahead of schedule due to good behavior and an overfilled jail system.
Jackson died before his comeback tour was set to begin in London in the summer of 2009.
Legal teams react, shift responsibility
Counsel for AEG Live said they were pleased with the verdict, reiterating that the corporation was not on the hook for Murray due to the nature of his contract, nor did they ever intend to settle the case. Damages could have reached hundreds of millions of dollars had the jury found in Katherine’s favor.
“We wouldn’t consider settling for the very important reason that AEG Live didn’t do something wrong here,” commented Marvin Putnam, AEG’s lawyer. “They weren’t going to allow themselves to be shaken down.”
Putnam held Jackson responsible for his untimely passing, suggesting the pop star’s drug addiction and failure to manage it were the main factors contributing to his death.
“He tragically had a very long and troubled history in terms of addiction,” Putnam commented. “One is responsible for the choices they make and that’s what occurred here.”
The trial led industry experts to ponder whether the case would inspire amendments to policies surrounding concert promotion, artist management and relations.
Shawn Trell, SVP and General Counsel for AEG Live, addressed procedural changes after the verdict, stating, “I don’t know that going forward there’s an expectation that we would get a similar request from any other artist. It’s nice to have this in the rearview mirror, and have it land the right way.”
Asked if he would handle it differently should the situation present itself again, Trell sardonically replied, “I think that answer’s self-evident.”
Though Katherine did not meet with reporters, the Jackson family lawyer Kevin Boyle made a statement to the crowd, thanking the media and public for their support and attention.
“We think that what we’ve done with this case is proved some things that are important for the Jackson family, and for the concert industry and the sports industry,” he said. “We, of course, are not happy with the result as it stands now. We will be exploring all options.”
Can Jackson rest in peace?
Fans of Jackson shared their dismay.
Many had rallied together for the length of the five-month trial, and stood outside the courthouse in matching clothes, shouting their grievances.
“Everyone was shocked,” said Laura Greenwood, 27, who wore a shirt bearing Katherine’s image. “I hope the Jacksons go for an appeal because I think ultimately this is a situation where people are getting away with, I don’t want to say murder, but you know…They should have to pay.”
A group of young women gathered together donning red t-shirts with words like “AEG Sucks” on their backs, and pleaded, “Conrad Murray is a monster who needs to be destroyed…We need some smart jurors next time.”
The protestors felt the verdict was a slap in the face, resulting from a “trick question.”
One woman commented, “We’ve been here for five months. Instead of rushing through the deliberation, if they didn’t understand the question, they needed to ask for clarification.”
Yet for 58-year-old Jackson fan Vincent Woods, who stood silently in the crowd holding up the singer’s photo, justice was served.
Now, says Woods, let the pop star be.
“I believe AEG was not responsible for Conrad Murray’s actions,” he said. “It was a just verdict as far as all the evidence that was presented in the courtroom. I’m hoping [Michael] rests in peace. I’m hoping his brothers and sisters persist in their careers and be successful. I’ll remember him most as a young child when he was with his brothers. That’s the part I loved.”
Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @CourtGarcia