Jackson Trial Begins

The most complete account of Michael Jackson’s final months is about to unfold in a cramped Los Angeles courtroom nearly four years after the pop superstar’s death.

Lawyers for Jackson’s mother will attempt to convince a jury that the company promoting the pop superstar’s 2009 comeback concerts is responsible for his untimely death. The attorneys will try to prove that AEG Live hired and controlled the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter over Jackson’s demise.

AEG Live denies any wrongdoing and contests that they hired the physician who for months was giving Jackson doses of a powerful anesthetic in the singer’s bedroom to help him sleep.

Opening statements on Monday will provide a roadmap for a case that will delve into Jackson’s addiction struggles and issues previously unexplored in court. Many of those in the singer’s orbit – family, famous friends, doctors and his teenage children – may testify during the months-long trial.

Some of the stars listed on the witness list include Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Lou Ferrigno and Spike Lee. Both of Jackson’s ex-wives, Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, are also listed as potential witnesses.

Katherine Jackson sued in September 2010, claiming AEG failed to properly investigate her son’s doctor, Conrad Murray. All but one of her claims has been dismissed, but millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake. The trial pits the family of a global superstar against AEG Live, a private company that as part of the Anschutz Entertainment Group has helped spark the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles with its venue, the Staples Center.

Unlike the 2011 trial that ended with Murray’s conviction, the civil trial will explore the troubled finances of both men – a situation that Katherine Jackson’s attorneys say created a conflict of interest for Murray that AEG should have been aware of.

The Houston-based cardiologist was deeply in debt when he agreed to serve as Jackson’s personal doctor for a series of 50 concerts in London dubbed “This Is It.” The doctor had liens and owed back child support when he began working with Jackson, expecting a $150,000 a month salary. Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication before the contract was fully signed.

The trial is expected to include detailed testimony about other doctors’ treatment of Jackson, a subject that was largely off-limits in the criminal case. Unlike Murray’s trial, which was broadcast live, the civil case will play out without cameras in a courtroom with only 45 public seats.

AEG denies they hired Murray, and have contended he should be considered an independent contractor, a designation many hospitals deem surgeons and other physicians.

Katherine Jackson’s attorneys, Brian Panish and Kevin Boyle, have repeatedly cited emails sent by top AEG executives referencing Murray’s pay and his obligations to get Jackson to perform.

Marvin S. Putnam, an attorney for AEG who was not available to comment, has said the company could not have foreseen the circumstances that led to Murray’s administration of propofol to Jackson as a sleep aide.

AEG has said in court filings that Jackson’s family is seeking $40 billion in damages, but Panish denies that’s the figure he’s seeking.

“We’ve never asked for $40 billion,” he said. “The jury is going to decide what the loss is.”

The high figure, Panish said, is the company’s attempt to “prejudice everybody against the Jacksons.” He says the case isn’t about money.

“It’s about getting the truth,” he said. “We’d like to get out all the evidence. The evidence is going to speak for itself that AEG had a lot of involvement and they completely deny responsibility.”

Jackson’s three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket are also listed as plaintiffs on the case.

Asked whether he and the Jacksons are concerned about the image of the “Thriller” singer that will emerge in court, Panish said the trial will show a different side of the superstar. “Mrs. Jackson and her grandchildren suffered a tremendous loss and AEG has never recognized that and continues to deny responsibility,” he said. “The other side of the story hasn’t been told.”

A jury of six men and six women has been selected to decide the case.

Monday’s remarks by Panish and Putnam will provide the jurors’ their first true insight into the evidence they will likely hear, and once again pull back the veil of Michael Jackson’s private life.