Michael Jackson’s struggle against drug addiction was put on display on Monday during opening statements at his mother’s wrongful death case against concert promoter AEG Live.
Competing portraits of Jackson emerged during the first hours of the trial, with Katherine Jackson’s attorney acknowledging the star’s drug problems while trying to show he was a caring son and father.
However, AEG’s attorney, Marvin Putnam, said the singer’s guarded life meant the company was unaware that he was using the powerful anesthetic propofol.
“The truth is, Michael Jackson fooled everyone,” Putnam said. “He made sure that no one, nobody, knew his deepest, darkest secrets.”
A jury of six men and six women will determine whether AEG should pay Jackson’s mother and three children after his 2009 death from an overdose of propofol.
“This case is about personal choices,” Putnam said about Michael Jackson’s decision to be treated by doctor Conrad Murray.
“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,” Putnam said as he ended his opening statement.
Katherine Jackson’s attorney, Brian Panish, said AEG created a conflict of interest for Murray, forcing him to choose between a large payday and the singer’s care. He told the jury AEG was feeling competitive pressures and wanted the tour to work at all costs.
Katherine Jackson sued AEG Live in September 2010, claiming it failed to properly investigate Murray before allowing him to be her son’s doctor as he prepared for his “This Is It” shows. She is also suing on behalf of the singer’s three children: Prince, Paris and Blanket.
AEG denies it hired Murray, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Michael Jackson’s death.
Panish told jurors that AEG executives ignored warning signs about Michael Jackson’s health and were motivated to push the singer and his doctor for financial gain.
With the singer’s mother, brother Randy and sister Rebbie seated in the front row of the courtroom, jurors were shown numerous slides and notes.
“All my success has been based on the fact that I wanted to make my mother proud, to win her smile of approval,” the note said.
The personal touches came after Panish spent the first half of his presentation detailing Jackson’s struggles with prescription drug abuse throughout the last half of his life.
He also showed jurors numerous e-mails sent between AEG executives concerning Jackson’s health and their concerns that he would not be able to perform.
Putnam urged jurors to remember that propofol killed the singer.
“While the world may not have heard of propofol, Mr Jackson certainly had. The evidence is going to show you that he had been using that drug for years and years,” Putnam said, adding that AEG executives were in the dark about the star’s propofol use.
However, Panish said AEG saw the shows as a way to make a lot of money and compete with Live Nation Entertainment Inc.
He showed a March 2009 e-mail in which AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips wrote to Tim Leiweke, the ex-CEO of AEG’sparent company, that Michael Jackson was drunk and refusing to address fans.
“He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it’s show time,” Phillips wrote Leiweke.
Panish said that was just one of several warning signs AEG ignored and told the panel they should look at AEG’s actions and not at Michael Jackson’s issues.