Debts, drugs, messy bedroom highlighted in Michael Jackson wrongful death trial
By Alan Duke
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — A lawyer for Michael Jackson’s family seemed satisfied as he left the Los Angeles courthouse after the first week of the pop star’s wrongful death trial.
“There’s a long way to go and we hope the evidence supports — and we believe it does — that Dr. (Conrad) Murray was unfit for the job he was hired to do,” attorney Brian Panish said. “He was financially motivated and was in serious financial straits.”
Jackson’s mother and three children are suing AEG Live, contending the concert promoter is liable in the pop icon’s death because it hired, retained and/or supervised Murray, the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Murray’s fatal treatment of Jackson with the surgical anesthetic the coroner ruled killed him was the result of the doctors’ financial desperation and pressure from AEG executives to have Jackson ready for rehearsals for his comeback tour, Jackson lawyers argue.
AEG contends it was Jackson who chose and controlled Murray, not its executives. The company had no way of knowing what treatments the doctor was giving the singer, who it said was an expert at keeping his “deepest, darkest secret”
The trial’s first witness was a paramedic who arrived at Jackson’s home at 12:26 p.m. on June 25, 2009 to find a man who he initially thought was a hospice patient who had died after a long illness. Jackson lawyers see that description as support for their argument that AEG execs should have realized the frailty of Jackson’s health.
The second witness was the Los Angeles Police detective who led the investigation of Jackson’s death. Orlando Martinez arrived at court Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday wearing a black cowboy hat, which he said is not part of his uniform as a homicide investigator, but “the chief tolerates it.”
The trial is off until Monday, when the coroner’s toxicologist will give scientific testimony about the drugs found in Jackson’s body after his autopsy. The doctor who conducted the autopsy will follow on the witness stand.
Conrad Murray’s big debts
When AEG Live first talked to Murray about working as Michael Jackson’s tour doctor, he asked for $5 million for a year. Now we know why.
Court records and credit reports showed Murray was at least $1 million in debt, including delinquent taxes, defaulted student loans, unpaid child support and a defaulted mortgage. His Las Vegas home, which had dropped in value by $500,000, was in foreclosure and his medical clinic was being evicted from an office building, according to records introduced as evidence in the trial.
Murray’s chances of catching up financially became an achievable goal when AEG Live agreed to pay him $150,000 a month. Before that, his monthly expenses totaled $2,700 more than his income, according to one document.
Martinez testified that he concluded this was a major incentive for Murray to “break the rules, bend the rules, to do whatever he needed to do to get paid.”
Murray’s heavy burden of child support payments was the result of his fathering eight children with seven women.
Jackson lawyers contend AEG could have at least run a credit check on Murray before giving him the responsibility of caring for Michael Jackson. It should have been a red flag warning that he would put his paycheck above his Hippocratic Oath.
Murray’s other lost patient
The Jackson death trial jury broke out into laughter at the oddest time Thursday — when Panish asked Martinez about another Murray patient who died under his care.
A Las Vegas man called Los Angeles police to tell them about how he thought Murray’s negligence caused his father’s death. The man said he didn’t file a medical malpractice suit because Nevada law discouraged him.
Panish: “You learned Conrad Murray wasn’t sued for malpractice, but he had killed someone else?” (The jury laughs.)
Panish: “You learned that Dr. Murray had caused the wrongful death of someone else?”
AEG’s lawyer brought out a document showing the coroner ruled the man’s death was from natural causes — a heart attack.
Martinez also testified that Murray had been suspended from hospitals three times in the decade before Jackson’s death. The loss of hospital privileges in one case was because he failed to promptly respond to a phone call when he was on call. The others appeared to be based on failure to follow record keeping procedures.
Jackson lawyers will argue that a background check on Murray by AEG executives would have revealed these and served as red flag warnings that he should not be Jackson’s tour doctor. AEG lawyer will contend they had no way of knowing.
‘One Jackson’ policy
Only one of Katherine Jackson’s eight sons and daughters can sit with her in court at one time, the judge ruled this week. Unlike in Murray criminal trial when all of the Jacksons filled a courtroom bench at times, the family will have just two seats throughout the civil trial.
The limit was imposed because all of the Jacksons — with the exception of Marlon — are on AEG’s witness list. AEG lawyers objected when they saw Randy and Rebbie sitting with their mother as the first witnesses testified. There is “a risk in allowing any of them in the courtroom,” an AEG lawyer argued. The risk is their own testimony would be influenced by hearing the testimony of others, she said.
Panish successfully argued that at least one should be allowed to sit with their 82-year-old mother, who plans to be in court each day — except for the gruesome medical testimony about her son’s autopsy.
“I think Mrs. Jackson should have at least one support person in the court room,” he said.
The Jacksons star power could influence jurors who sit just a few feet away from them in the tiny courtroom.
Jackson family intervention
AEG lawyers plan to call Janet, Jermaine, Jackie, Tito, La Toya, Rebbie and Randy Jackson to testify about their failed attempts to intervene with Michael Jackson’s drug addiction and their lack of knowledge about what was happening to him. Only brother Marlon Jackson is not on the defense witness list.
AEG is trying to show that Jackson was able to deceive even those close to him about his drug use, which helps their argument that executives with the concert promoter could not have known about it.
The lawsuit contends that even if the executives didn’t know about Murray’s dangerous treatments, they should have.
Katherine Jackson told investigators that her family “attempted several interventions and she had spoken to her son about possible problems with drugs herself,” Martinez testified Thursday. “He denied having a problem.”
An intervention at Jackson’s Neverland ranch, organized by sister Janet, failed because “Michael didn’t want to participate,” Martinez said.
The Los Angeles mansion where Michael Jackson died was clean and neat, except for Jackson’s bedroom, according to Martinez. Jurors saw police photos taken hours after the pop icon’s death, showing disorganized closets, cardboard boxes lining the hallway and a general mess throughout.
AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam spent several minutes questioning Martinez about the messiness. During the lunch break, Jackson lawyer joked to reporters that Putnam has succeed in proving Michael Jackson was messy.
Back in court, Panish asked the detective: “Is there anywhere in the penal code that says if you have a messy room that’s against the law?” The jury thought that was funny and laughed.
Panish: “You’ve come across scenes that had a messy room?”
Panish: “And that’s an indication that someone is not doing well, that their health is bad and they can’t clean the room?”
Panish: “There were moving boxes in the room?”
Panish: “Did you know he was planning to go to England? Within a week or two he was leaving that residence?”
When Martinez walked into the upstairs master bedroom,, he found the gas fireplace was burning, the television was on and music coming from the CD player. Except for Murray, “only the chef who can drop off food at the door” was allowed upstairs, he testified.
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