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Billions may be at stake in Michael Jackson wrongful death trial

Billions may be at stake in Michael Jackson wrongful death trial
Michael Jackson (2009 file photo)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Concert giant AEG Live failed in its duty to properly investigate the doctor who treated Michael Jackson because it was concerned about its own fortunes, an attorney for the singer's mother told a jury Monday morning.

"His stirring voice, his musical genius, his creativity and his generosity and his huge heart was extinguished forever," attorney Brian Panish said in opening statements of a civil lawsuit filed over Jackson's June 2009 death. Katherine Jackson is suing AEG claiming it failed to properly investigate the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter over Jackson's death.

"You're going to hear the whole story about what happened in the death of Michael Jackson," Panish said.

Panish made his remarks in an opening presentation filled with slides detailing the case against AEG, which was promoting Jackson's planned comeback concerts, "This Is It."

Jackson's mother, brother Randy and sister Rebbie sat in the front row of the courtroom as Panish detailed aspects of Jackson's life.

An attorney for AEG is expected to begin addressing the panel later Monday.

Millions, and possibly billions, of dollars are at stake. A jury of six men and six women will determine any damage award.

Katherine Jackson sued the company in September 2010, claiming it failed to properly investigate former physician Conrad Murray before allowing him to serve as Jackson's tour doctor. She is also suing on behalf of her son's three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket.

AEG denies it hired Murray and its attorneys have said they could not have foreseen the circumstances that led to Jackson's death at age 50. A jury convicted Murray of giving Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in 2011. The hospital-grade anesthetic was being administered as a sleep aid.

Panish told jurors they would be putting together a puzzle, with three pieces being Jackson, Murray and AEG Live.

He told the panel that Jackson suffered from addiction to prescription medications and Demerol at times during his life, and the problem increased when he was keeping up a rigorous schedule. Panish cited a 1984 accident that injured Jackson during a Pepsi commercial suit as causing the singer tremendous physical pain throughout his life.

"Over the years Michael family's and people who knew him believed he had a problem with prescription medication," Panish told jurors. He said the only group that would claim they didn't know about Jackson's addiction issues were AEG and its executives.

The lawyer showed a brief clip of Jackson rehearing for the "This Is It" shows and a clip of the singer dancing in the early stages of his presentation. He also showed footage of 1999 show in Munich in which Jackson was performing when a bridge dropped 50 feet with the singer on it. Despite pain, Jackson continued performing, Panish said.

Panish said Jackson turned to Demerol to relieve his pain.

Panish also detailed Murray's money problems, including an impending foreclosure and other debts. AEG also had issues as well, the lawyer told jurors, saying the company was feeling intense pressure from concert promoter Live Nation.

He said AEG saw the Jackson shows as a way to make a lot of money and better compete with Live Nation.

He said the company was so concerned with getting Jackson to perform, "They didn't care who got lost in the wash."

Jurors listened intently to Panish's presentation, and a couple nodded their head as the attorney detailed Jackson's achievements, including his Super Bowl appearances, successful concert tours and other milestones.

Panish also showed jurors several emails between key AEG executives discussing Jackson's condition in the months before his death.

The lawyer displayed a March 2009 email before a press conference featuring Jackson, in which AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips wrote to the former CEO of AEG'S parent company, Tim Leiweke, that Jackson was drunk and refusing to address fans.

"This is the scariest thing I have ever seen," Phillips wrote Lieweke. "He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it's show time. He's scared to death."

Panish said Jackson's behavior was just one of several warning signs that the company ignored before MJ's death.

Jackson's mother and his two oldest children, Prince and Paris, are listed as possible witnesses. An AEG attorney said Monday that the company intends to call Murray as a witness.

Murray did not testify at his criminal trial.

Panish told jurors they would have to determine who was responsible for Jackson's death.

"Michael paid the ultimate price. He died," Panish said. "Michael has taken responsibility."
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