Crime & Justice

Michael Jackson concert promoter AEG Live cleared in wrongful death case

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Brian Panish, attorney for the Michael Jackson family, delivers his closing argument to jurors in the Michael Jackson lawsuit against concert promoter AEG Live last week in Los Angeles.
Pool/Getty Images

A Los Angeles jury has found concert promoter AEG Live was not negligent in the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson, who died of a sedative overdose four years ago.

Reuters reports the jury ruled unanimously. In this case, only nine were needed to reach a verdict.

Jackson's mother had sought $1.5 billion in damages — a figure AEG's attorney called "ridiculous" last week.

KPCC's Haley Fox was at the courthouse.

"We reached a verdict that we understand not everybody's gonna agree with," said Gregg Barden, one of the jurors, reading a statement on behalf of the entire jury. "But the decision was reached after very careful consideration of five months of testimony, thousands of documents, and of course the guidance of the court."

"We think that what we've done with this case proves some things that are important for the Jackson family and for the concert industry and the sports industry, with regards to treatment by doctors," said Kevin Boyle, one of Katherine Jackson's attorneys."

The verdict ends a trial that lasted five months, with Jackson's mother and siblings accusing his concert promoter of negligence in hiring and supervising Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a jury in 2011, for giving the pop star the sedative propofol, the drug blamed for his death.

The 12-person jury in the wrongful death case was made up of six men and six women. They had deliberated for parts of two days last week before deciding to take a long weekend. On the eve of the verdict, here's how The Los Angeles Times summed up the dilemma the jury faced:

"What the case may come down to is whether jurors think that Jackson is to blame for his own demise by insisting on hiring the doctor who killed him, or that AEG Live executives were such poor witnesses that nothing they said can be believed."

Michael Jackson died in June of 2009, less than a month before his blockbuster This Is It tour was scheduled to begin. AEG Live was the promoter of the tour's 50 concerts, which were billed as his first major tour since 1997. Two AEG executives were dismissed from the lawsuit last month, after Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos ruled that the plaintiffs had not proven they were liable.

In the wrongful death suit, Jackson's mother, Katherine, argued that AEG Live erred in hiring Murray, and failed to intervene on her son's behalf. The concert promoter has maintained that it did not want to hire the doctor, and that he was involved only at the singer's insistence. The company also says it didn't hire Murray, but had planned to advance the money for his $150,000 monthly salary to Jackson.

Some of the most damaging material presented at the trial was a batch of emails between AEG executives that seemed to undermine their claims that they had little to do with Murray.

In his closing arguments last Tuesday, Jackson attorney Brian Panish reminded the jury of an email presented during the trial that was sent by AEG co-CEO Paul Gongaware. Panish said the message proves the company, which faced the possibility of steep financial losses, pressured Murray to ensure Jackson could perform on stage.

Here's how that email read, in response to concerns that the doctor had held Jackson out of a rehearsal less than two weeks before his death:

"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."

In a taped deposition, Gongaware said he couldn't recall writing the email.

In closing arguments for AEG, attorney Marvin Putnam said that Jackson was "responsible for his own choices — no matter how bad those choices might ultimately prove to be."

"It was Mr. Jackson, not AEG Live, that chose Dr. Conrad Murray," Putnam told the jury.

He also played a video for the jurors, showing rehearsals for the This Is It tour that were filmed on June 23, two days before Jackson's death. Saying that the video showed Jackson in good form, Putnam recommended that the jury request to see the full film — something they did on Friday, before adjourning for the weekend.

The jury also asked to see AEG Live's contract for Murray's work, the AP reports.

This story has been updated.