Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Trial Opens: Were Tour Organizers to Blame?

Article excerpt

The Michael Jackson wrongful death trial - which has begun with opening arguments Monday in a small Los Angeles courtroom - pits the family of one of the world's richest and most beloved pop stars against one of the world's largest entertainment companies.

Because of nature of the case, it could bring out more detail than the previous trial connected to Mr. Jackson's death, in which doctor Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He is currently serving a four-year sentence. Moreover, the trial could be more broad-ranging in touching on how Jackson reacted to child- molestation charges against him, his drug use, and his finances.

Unlike Dr. Murray's trial, however, which was broadcast live in the US, the civil case will play out without cameras in a courtroom with only 45 public seats.

The trial could last months and promises a long list of celebrities including Diana Ross, Quincy Jones, Spike Lee, and Prince. Both of Jackson's ex-wives, Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, are also listed as potential witnesses.

The case will center on the Jacksons' claim that AEG Live played a role in Jackson's 2009 death by irresponsibly pushing him and Murray to make sure the singer would be ready for his 50-show "This Is It" tour, which was scheduled to begin in London later that year.

A key part of the case, in which Jackson's mother, Katherine, is the plaintiff, is an e-mail from AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware written 11 days before Jackson's death. It is addressed to show director Kenny Ortega and expresses concern that Murray had kept Jackson from a rehearsal the day before, according to a CNN report. "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."

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Jackson's side argues the e-mail is evidence that AEG Live used Murray's fear of losing his lucrative job as Jackson's personal physician to pressure him to have Jackson ready for rehearsals despite Jackson's fragile health.

AEG is expected to argue that Jackson struggled with addiction for years, that he chose Murray himself, and that it was his own drug addiction that led to his death. They will say that Murray - who had already been chosen by Jackson and paid by him for several years - was not an AEG employee.

The trial is likely to include detailed testimony about other doctors' treatment of Jackson, a subject that was largely off- limits in the earlier case. …