Michael Jackson’s mom: ‘I want to know what really happened’
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Michael Jackson’s mother told jurors she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against AEG Live “because I want to know what really happened to my son.”
Katherine Jackson, likely the final witness as her lawyers conclude their wrongful death case against the pop icon’s last concert promoter, began her testimony Friday and will conclude it Monday in a Los Angeles court.
“The most difficult thing is to sit here in the court and listen to all the bad things they say about my son,” Jackson testified.
The 83-year-old matriarch of the world’s most famous entertainment family sat on the front row in the small courtroom for most of the 51 previous days of testimony.
“A lot of the facts that have been said are not the truth,” she said. She said contrary to what an AEG Live executive wrote in an e-mail as Jackson prepared for his comeback concerts in 2009, her son was not lazy.
But she especially objected to an e-mail from AEG parent company’s general counsel that called Jackson “a freak” on the same day his company’s top executives were going to his house to sign the “This Is It” tour contract.
“He’s not here to speak for himself,” his mother said. She said she would “try my best” to speak for the pop icon.
Jurors leaned forward and listened closely during Jackson’s testimony and as her lawyer showed them video of her son performing as a child.
The lawsuit filed by Katherine Jackson and on behalf of the singer’s three children contends AEG Live is liable for the death of Jackson because it hired, retained or supervised Dr. Conrad Murray. The doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
AEG Live argues it was Jackson, not their company, who chose and controlled Murray, who admitted giving Jackson nightly infusions of a surgical anesthetic the coroner ruled killed him. Its executives had no way of knowing about the dangerous treatments Murray was giving Jackson in the privacy of his bedroom, AEG Live lawyers contend.
“Why are you here?” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish asked Katherine
“Because I want to know what really happened to my son,” she said. “And that’s why I am here.”
Panish asked Jackson how it made her feel to have been asked probing and personal questions about her family by AEG Live lawyer Marvin Putnam during a dozen hours of deposition testimony.
“It makes me feel real bad, because my son was a very good person,” she said. “He loved everybody, he gave to charity, he was in the Guinness Book of World Records for giving to charity.”
Putnam faces the challenge of not appearing unkind to Katherine Jackson while also trying to discredit her testimony.
“Forget it,” she said as she stopped before answering Putnam’s question about why she initially included, and later dropped show director Kenny Ortega as a defendant in her lawsuit.
“Forget what ma’am?” Putnam asked.
Jackson remained silent for about a minute, staring back at Putnam.
Would it help to reread the question, he asked.
“No, it wouldn’t be helpful,” Jackson answered curtly.
The judge finally ordered the question stricken from the record because the answer involved privileged discussions with her lawyers.
Jackson returned to the stand after the lunch break but she told the judge she was tired after just a few more minutes of questioning by Putnam. The judge sent jurors home two hours early and will allow Katherine Jackson to resume her testimony Monday morning.
If jurors decide that AEG Live is liable in Jackson’s death, they could award damages based on the loss of the mother’s and children’s relationship with him and the amount of money he was unable to earn because his life was cut short.
The wrongful death trial is about to get a lot uglier, if defense lawyers live up to the promise of their opening statements.
AEG Live lawyers this week brought up the child molestation charges against Jackson and the 2002 incident in which the pop star “dangled” his infant son on a Berlin hotel balcony.
Touring till 66?
Paris Jackson made another appearance in the trial this week — via a video of her deposition in March. Jurors saw a clip of AEG Live lawyer Putnam asking the 15-year-old what her father told her about his “This Is It” tour:
Putnam: “Did he explain to you how long the tour was going to last?”
Paris: “I assume a long time since it was a world tour, but those usually last a long time”
Putnam: “How did you understand it was a world tour?”
Paris: “Because he told us.”
Putnam: “What did he tell you?”
Paris: “That we were going around the world on tour.”
Certified public accountant Arthur Erk, who has managed and audited the business affairs of many top artists, testified Wednesday that he is “reasonably certain” that Jackson would have performed 260 shows around the world as part of his “This Is It” tour. He would have earned $890 million over the three years of concerts in Europe, Asia, South America, North America and Australia, Erk said.
Jackson would have earned at least $1.5 billion from touring, endorsements and sponsorships had he not died preparing for his comeback tour, Erk said.
AEG Live’s unprecedented sellout of 50 shows scheduled for London’s O2 Arena in 2009 and 2010 proved there was “pent-up demand” to see Jackson live, despite controversies that had tarnished his reputation in the years since his last tour in 1998, Erk said.
An e-mail from AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips said fans bought all 750,000 tickets put on sale for 31 shows in March 2009 in just two hours. Enough buyers were registered to sell out another 100 shows, Phillips wrote.
“Dude, we’re going to sell out a ridiculous amount of tickets,” AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware wrote in an e-mail. “We’ve got to get Mikey to add more shows.”
Jackson’s manager quickly approved another 19 shows, bringing the total to 50.
“Ten million tickets for the rest of the world? They would have gobbled up those tickets in seconds,” Erk said.
AEG Live lawyer Sabrina Strong challenged Erk’s estimate, asking if any other act has ever made as much money on a tour. “No,” he said. “This would have been a record-breaking world tour.”
Jackson would have done another 195 shows over four more world tours before retiring from the road at age 66, Erk predicted.
Putnam called Erk’s estimates “a creation, a fabrication” which suggests Jackson would have made more after age 50 that he did in the three tours during the “height of his fame.”
Jackson never intended to perform after the 50 shows in London, Putnam said.
AEG Live showed jurors a video clip of Katherine Jackson’s deposition, in which she said her son would joke that he “didn’t want to be moonwalking on stage at 50.”
“Michael said that quite a few years back and he was joking,” his mother explained in her testimony Friday. “I thought it was funny and most of us said things like that. I used to think 50 was very old.”
In fact, Jackson was 50 when he signed a three-year contract with AEG Live for his comeback tour, which would have likely included his famous moonwalk dance steps as he performed “Billie Jean.”
“We announced that we’re going to have one tour in London, that’s what was announced, and it was called ‘This Is It,’ meaning in London, this show is it,” he said. “This show is it. This is the last thing he’s ever going to do. As a result of this being his final performance ever, to be at the O2 in London, there was enormous response, understandably, and therefore we sold 50 shows.”
With the Jackson case ending — which Putnam called “ridiculous” — “now we’re going to start to show what actually occurred here,” he said.
No Conrad Murray testimony
AEG Live’s defense team confirmed Wednesday that they would not be calling Murray to testify.
“I have no intention of calling him myself, unless it’s requested, your honor,” Putnam said, replying to the judge’s question about his plans.
Until now, AEG Live lawyers have suggested they might call Murray, who is serving a four-year jail sentence for involuntary manslaughter, to the witness stand.
Murray’s lawyer gave the Jackson and AEG Live lawyers a sworn statement from the doctor before the trial began stating that he would invoke his constitutional protection against self-incrimination by refusing to answer questions if subpoenaed.
See you in September
Jurors, who were told when the trial started in April that it could end sometime in August, appeared unfazed when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos told them this week that it is likely to extend into mid-September. Putnam estimated this week that he needs about 30 days in court to present his defense after the plaintiffs rest.
The jurors often have laughed and smiled in reaction to testimony and the interplay between Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish, the judge and the AEG defense team.
For example, when Palazuelos ordered Panish to turn around and face the bench while AEG attorney Sabrina Strong cross-examined Erk, jurors seemed amused. Panish, whose seat was just in front of Strong’s lectern, had been looking directly up at her at close range.
There were no laughs in the hallway after court on Tuesday when Panish and Putnam exchanged words. The two lawyers were standing about 15 feet apart, each talking to reporters, when they began directing their words at each other. The court clerk interrupted the heated conversation, threatening to summon deputies.
Palazuelos lectured the lawyers in her chambers the next morning and imposed new rules that bar them from speaking to journalists in the hallway.
By Alan Duke