Michael Jackson's family and friends knew the King of Pop abused prescription drugs, an attorney for Jackson's mother told a Los Angeles jury Monday, yet the promoters of his ill-fated 2009 comeback tour denied any knowledge of it.
In his opening statement, attorney Brian Panish, who is representing Katherine Jackson in her wrongful death lawsuit against AEG Live, told jurors that officials with the concert promoter were so focused on beating the competition with Jackson's This Is It tour that they relentlessly pushed the King of Pop to perform despite numerous warning signs about his health, and negligently hired Dr. Conrad Murray, the man convicted of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol.
“They wanted to be No. 1 at all costs,” Panish said. “We're not looking for any sympathy...We're looking for truth and justice.”
Panish detailed Jackson's prescription drug abuse history, saying the singer regularly used Demerol and propofol, and that “people who knew him believed he had a problem with prescription medication.”
"[Michael Jackson's] stirring voice, his musical genius, his creativity and his generosity and his huge heart was extinguished forever," Panish said. “You're going to hear the whole story about what happened in the death of Michael Jackson.”
AEG officials have denied all wrongdoing in the civil suit filed by Katherine Jackson and the singer's three children, saying that Murray, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2011, was an independent contractor hired by Jackson.
Murray is currently serving four years in prison for his role in the pop superstar's death and is appealing his conviction.
Marvin S. Putnam, the lawyer representing AEG Live, told jurors in his opening remarks that concert promoter officials could not have known about Jackson's private life, including his propofol use, and could not have foreseen circumstances that led to a physician giving the pop star doses of the anesthetic as a sleep aid.
“The truth is, Michael Jackson fooled everyone,” Putnam said. “He made sure that no one, nobody, knew his deepest darkest secrets.”
Katherine Jackson and two of her children, Rebbie and Randy Jackson, sat in the front row of the courtroom, as Jackson fans and media thronged the hallways and the areas outside the courthouse. No cameras were allowed inside the courtroom.
Attorney Tom Mesereau, who represented Jackson when he was exonerated on child molestation charges, says AEG wants to say the singer’s “reputation was diminished.” Mesereau adds, “If that's true, why did they want to enter into a business contract with him?”
Dana Cole, an ABC News legal Analyst, says the issue in this case revolves around Dr. Murray. Cole says, “The question is really was he working for AEG or was he Michael Jackson's personal physician?”
Tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the worldwide pop music icon's reputation, are at stake in this trial. A jury comprised of six men and six women will hear arguments that are expected to last into the summer to decide if AEG is liable for damages.
Michael Jackson died in June 2009 at the age of 50.
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