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Michael Jackson family lawyer blasts tour promoter as trial opens

Lawyer for King of Pop's mother accuses AEG Live of negligence in wrongful death trial

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 2:37am
 

The lawyer for Michael Jackson's mother has accused the promoter of his doomed final tour of sacrificing the troubled star in a "ruthless" pursuit of profit in the months before his 2009 death.

At the trial on Monday pitting Katherine Jackson against AEG Live, her lawyer Brian Panish alleged the promoter was negligent in hiring doctor Conrad Murray, who was convicted in 2011 of causing Jackson's death.

But Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) lawyer Marvin Putnam argued the mega pop star had hidden the evidence of his addiction and health woes from everyone, including his family and the concert promoters.

He said evidence presented at the trial would show that Jackson had used propofol - the anaesthetic drug which caused his death - since the 1990s to help him sleep, and had been repeatedly warned that it could kill him.

"Mr Jackson got very, very good at hiding his addiction," said Putnam, adding that "even his family and friends didn't know" about his propofol abuse.

Jackson's 82-year-old mother sat impassively in the front row, flanked by his siblings Randy and Rebbie, as details of the self-styled King of Pop's long-term drug and alcohol abuse were listed in the court.

Panish accused AEG of neglecting its duty of care to Jackson, as it strove to become the world's biggest concert promoter through the doomed "This is it" series of concerts in London.

"AEG had a problem and they wanted to fix it. And they didn't care who got lost in the wash," he said. "They were ruthless. They wanted to be number one at all costs."

"Michael Jackson, Dr Conrad Murray and AEG Live each played a part in the ultimate result, the death of Michael Jackson," he said, but added: "Without AEG, none of this would ever have occurred."

But Putnam, in his opening statement, said AEG simply did not see any red flags. "The truth is Mr Jackson fooled everyone," he said.

Katherine Jackson, wearing a blue trouser suit, was greeted by fans shouting "We love you Mrs Jackson" as she arrived for the start of the trial, expected to last at least three months.

She is seeking billions of dollars in damages - US$1.5 billion in lost income and an unspecified amount for emotional loss and other damages - on behalf of Jackson's children Prince, 16, Paris, 14 and 11-year-old Blanket". Prince and Paris could appear as witnesses, alongside celebrities who may testify, including Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, and Spike Lee. Both of Jackson's ex-wives, Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, could also appear.

The 50-year-old singer died at his Los Angeles mansion on June 25, 2009, from an overdose of propofol, administered by Murray to help the Thriller legend deal with chronic insomnia.

At the time of his death, he was rehearsing for 50 shows in London in an attempt to revive his career and ease financial woes.

Much could turn on who exactly was responsible for hiring and paying Murray a promised US$150,000 a month, whether Jackson himself or AEG.

Panish cited a string of e-mails on Monday, including one about Murray from AEG executive Paul Gongaware to tour director Kenny Ortega 11 days before Jackson's death, which clearly implicated AEG.

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