Michael Jackson’s Mom Set to Testify in Death Trial

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Photo credit: LA County Superior Court

By Alan Duke


LOS ANGELES (CNN) — The wrongful death trial of Michael Jackson‘s last concert promoter is about to get a lot uglier, if defense lawyers live up to the promise of their opening statements.

AEG Live lawyers this week brought up the child molestation charges against Jackson and the 2002 incident in which the pop star “dangled” his infant son on a Berlin hotel balcony.

But Jackson family matriarch Katherine Jackson will get to speak before her lawyers rest their case, likely Friday, and the defense begins calling witnesses on Monday.

Jackson’s 83-year-old mother, who has sat on the front row of the small courtroom nearly all of the 51 days of testimony, is expected to testify about her son’s close relationship to his three children — who also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit — and about his plans for his later years of life.

If jurors decide that AEG Live is liable in Jackson’s death — while under the care of a doctor the family contends AEG Live hired, retained or supervised — they could award damages based on the loss of the mother and children’s relationship with him and the amount of money he was unable to earn because his life was cut short.

AEG Live lawyers argue that Jackson, not their executives, chose and controlled Dr. Conrad Murray, and they had no way of knowing about the dangerous surgical anesthesia infusions the doctor was giving the singer to treat his insomnia. Those infusions occurred most nights in the two months before the pop star died from a propofol overdose.

Touring till 66?

Paris Jackson made another appearance in the trial this week — via a video of her deposition in March. Jurors saw a clip of AEG Live lawyer Marvin Putnam asking the 15-year-old what her father told her about his “This Is It” tour:

Putnam: “Did he explain to you how long the tour was going to last?”

Paris: “I assume a long time since it was a world tour, but those usually last a long time”

Putnam: “How did you understand it was a world tour?”

Paris: “Because he told us.”

Putnam: “What did he tell you?”

Paris: “That we were going around the world on tour.”

Certified public accountant Arthur Erk, who has managed and audited the business affairs of many top artists, testified Wednesday that he is “reasonably certain” that Michael Jackson would have performed 260 shows around the world as part of his “This Is It” tour. He would have earned $890 million over the three years of concerts in Europe, Asia, South America, North America and Australia, Erk said.

Jackson would have earned at least $1.5 billion from touring, endorsements and sponsorships had he not died preparing for his comeback tour, Erk said.

AEG Live’s unprecedented sellout of 50 shows scheduled for London’s O2 Arena in 2009 and 2010 proved there was “pent-up demand” to see Jackson live, despite controversies that had tarnished his reputation in the years since his last tour in 1998, Erk said.

An e-mail from AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips said fans bought all 750,000 tickets put on sale for 31 shows in March 2009 in just two hours. Enough buyers were registered to sell out another 100 shows, Phillips wrote.

“Dude, we’re going to sell out a ridiculous amount of tickets,” AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware wrote in an e-mail. “We’ve got to get Mikey to add more shows.”

Jackson’s manager quickly approved another 19 shows, bringing the total to 50.

“Ten million tickets for the rest of the world? They would have gobbled up those tickets in seconds,” Erk said.

AEG Live lawyer Sabrina Strong challenged Erk’s estimate, asking if any other act has ever made as much money on a tour. “No,” he said. “This would have been a record-breaking world tour.”

Jackson would have done another 195 shows over four more world tours before retiring from the road at age 66, Erk predicted.

Lead defense lawyer Marvin Putnam called Erk’s estimates “a creation, a fabrication” which suggests Jackson would have made more after age 50 that he did in the three tours during the “height of his fame.”

Jackson never intended to perform after the 50 shows in London, Putnam said.

AEG Live showed jurors a video clip of Katherine Jackson’s deposition, in which she said her son would joke that he “didn’t want to be moonwalking on stage at 50.” A Jackson lawyer said it was something Jackson said when he was much younger and 50 seemed old.

In fact, Jackson was 50 when he signed a three-year contract with AEG Live for his comeback tour, which would have likely included his famous moonwalk dance steps as he performed “Billie Jean.”

“We announced that we’re going to have one tour in London, that’s what was announced, and it was called ‘This Is It,’ meaning in London, this show is it,” he said. “This show is it. This is the last thing he’s ever going to do. As a result of this being his final performance ever, to be at the O2 in London, there was enormous response, understandably, and therefore we sold 50 shows.”

With the Jackson case ending — which Putnam called “ridiculous” — “now we’re going to start to show what actually occurred here,” he said.

No Conrad Murray testimony

AEG Live’s defense team confirmed Wednesday that they would not be calling Murray to testify.

“I have no intention of calling him myself, unless it’s requested, your honor,” Putnam said, replying to the judge’s question about his plans.

Until now, AEG Live lawyers have suggested they might call Murray, who is serving a four-year jail sentence for involuntary manslaughter, to the witness stand.

Murray’s lawyer gave the Jackson and AEG Live lawyers a sworn statement from the doctor before the trial began stating that he would invoke his constitutional protection against self-incrimination by refusing to answer questions if subpoenaed.

See you in September

Jurors, who were told when the trial started in April that it could end sometime in August, appeared unfazed when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos told them this week that it is likely to extend into mid-September. Putnam estimated this week that he needs about 30 days in court to present his defense after the plaintiffs rest.

The jurors often have laughed and smiled in reaction to testimony and the interplay between Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish, the judge and the AEG defense team.

For example, when Palazuelos ordered Panish to turn around and face the bench while AEG attorney Sabrina Strong cross-examined Erk, jurors seemed amused. Panish, whose seat was just in front of Strong’s lectern, had been looking directly up at her at close range.

There were no laughs in the hallway after court on Tuesday when Panish and Putnam exchanged words. The two lawyers were standing about 15 feet apart, each talking to reporters, when they began directing their words at each other. The court clerk interrupted the heated conversation, threatening to summon deputies.

Palazuelos lectured the lawyers in her chambers the next morning and imposed new rules that bar them from speaking to journalists in the hallway.

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