(Photo: Joel Ryan, AP)
(USA Today) LOS ANGELES - A jury Wednesday ruled in favor of concert promoter AEG Live, finding it was not negligent in the death of singer Michael Jackson.
The jury of six men and six women were discharged after their verdict was read in court on the third day of deliberations after a bitterly contested trial that lasted five months in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson's mother, brought the case against AEG Live LLC, the giant concert promoter that was producing the singer's comeback concerts.
To reach a verdict, only nine of the 12 jurors needed to agree; A unanimous verdict was not required.
Jackson died in June 2009 of an overdose of the drug propofol, which is intended for use in surgery at hospitals.
Following a trial, Conrad Murray was found guilty in November 2011 of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death for giving the singer an overdose of propofol as a sleep aid. Just who was responsible for hiring Murray to take care of Jackson before his comeback concerts was at the heart of the family's negligence claim.
Jackson's lawyers depicted the company as being more concerned with the profits a successful concert run could generate than the singer's well-being.
Brian Panish, lawyer for Jackson's mother, urged the jury to find that defendant AEG Live LLC and Jackson shared responsibility for hiring Murray, who is serving a prison sentence.
AEG Live contends it was pressured by Jackson to hire Murray as his personal physician. Attorneys for the promoter argued that Jackson and Murray deceived the promoter by concealing that Jackson, who complained of chronic insomnia, was receiving the anesthetic propofol nightly in his home as a sleep aid.
Panish urged the jury to find that AEG hired Murray without considering whether he was fit for the job.
"Propofol might not be the best idea," Panish said. "But if you have a competent doctor, you're not going to die."
Panish contended that AEG executives including CEO Randy Phillips and co-CEO Paul Gongaware disdained Jackson and pointed to an e-mail in which an AEG attorney referred to Jackson as "the freak."
"They're a money-making machine," Panish said. "All they care about is how much money is this freak going to make for them."
Both executives were initially named as defendants but were dismissed from the case during the trial.
Panish showed jurors details of a contract that was drafted by AEG Live but only signed by Murray. He said it proved that AEG wanted to control the doctor.
AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam told jurors that Jackson insisted on hiring Murray despite objections from AEG Live. The company told Jackson there were great doctors in London, where his concerts would be held, but the singer insisted, Putnam said.
"It was his money and he certainly wasn't going to take no for an answer," he said.
AEG attorneys showed the jury excerpts from the documentary film about the failed Jackson comeback, This Is It, to demonstrate that Jackson appeared in top form just 12 hours before he died.
"AEG Live did not have a crystal ball," Putnam said. "Dr. Murray and Mr. Jackson fooled everyone. They want to blame AEG for something no one saw."
He contended AEG would have pulled the plug on the concerts had it been aware Jackson was receiving the powerful drug.
"AEG would have never agreed to finance this tour if they knew Mr. Jackson was playing Russian roulette in his bedroom every night," Putnam told jurors.
Panish said AEG should pay $85 million in personal damages to each of Michael Jackson's three children, and $35 million to the singer's mother.
But potential economic damages could be larger. Attorneys for the Jackson family argued that had he lived, the singer could have made as much as $1.5 billion from the concerts, music, endorsements and related revenue streams.
Putnam, the AEG attorney, dismissed those calculations and presented expert testimony putting economic damages far lower, at close to $21 million. AEG also presented testimony showing Jackson had a history of erratic behavior and canceled shows.
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