Michael Jackson (Everett Collection)
It's all in the hands of the jury now.
After five months of testimony, the jury has begun deliberations in the civil trial of the estate of Michael Jackson vs. AEG Live. And with a lot of money at stake, the case is certainly being watched closely.
Below is a recap and analysis of the trial that has captivated Hollywood all summer long.
Here's how it breaks down by the numbers: The trial's gone on for 21 weeks, it's called upon 58 witnesses, over 800 pieces were entered into evidence, and the jury's received over 64 pages of instructions.
The Jackson estate is asking for over $1 billion in compensatory damages, based upon the amount that Michael would have made in the course of his lifetime. The Jackson family is also seeking personal damages of $85 million for each of Michael's three children as well as $35 million for Katherine, according to the Los Angeles Times. AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam estimates the value of damages from Jackson's death at around $21 million.
Because it was not a criminal trial, the jury does not need to be unanimous, but rather only needs to reach a 9 to 3 majority. In his final two-hour rebuttal on Thursday, Jackson family attorney Brian Panish said that even if Michael was 20% at fault for the cause of his death, AEG Live was still 80% responsible, leaving the door open for the jury to award a partial amount to the plaintiff.
Katherine Jackson (Splash News)
How We Got Here: The plaintiff — lead by Jackson family matriarch Katherine Jackson and also representing the late singer's three children — argued that Dr. Conrad Murray was responsible for Michael Jackson's death while he was under the employ of the behemoth concert promoter. They sought to prove negligence in the hiring of Dr. Murray and that AEG Live's greed was responsible for Michael's death on June 25, 2009. Evidence included a sound bite from AEG CEO Randy Phillips directly saying that the company hired Dr. Murray.
The defense painted Jackson as a drug addict who had hired Dr. Murray himself and was responsible for his own demise. They claim that the $150,000 a month being paid to Dr. Murray was in fact an advance to Michael for his 50 scheduled "This Is It" concerts in London.
Dr. Murray was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in November 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison. He's expected to be released before the end of the year.
Notable Courtroom Cameos: The case was expected to draw a who's who from the entertainment world — the initial witness list included Prince, Beyoncé, and Sharon Osbourne — but ultimately, none of these big names were called to the stand. Instead, a parade of accountants and doctors made up the bulk of the testimony.
Several key testimonies focused on the nature of Michael Jackson's character. Katherine, Michael's eldest son Prince Michael, and his daughter Paris, all submitted taped depositions for the trial but did not take the stand.
Debbie Rowe, the mother of Jackson's three children, testified for two days about Michael's love for his children as well as his medical struggles ever since the 1984 incident in which he was badly injured while filming a Pepsi commercial. Rowe explained how the loss of Paris's father directly lead to the young girl's suicide attempts this past June.
One of the last witnesses was Michael's longtime doctor and friend Dr. Allan Metzger, who explained that Michael needed certain medications for what he says was legitimate physical pain. But when it came to the more powerful intravenous "sleep medications" that Michael sought, he warned his friend that they were potentially life threatening and shouldn't be administered outside of a hospital.
Perhaps the most crucial testimony, however, came from AEG Live co-CEO Paul Gongaware back when the trial opened in May, whose emails the plaintiffs point to as acknowledgment that they employed Dr. Murray to care for Michael. The jury saw several emails from Gongaware in which they claim he was negotiating Murray's contract. In one email he wrote that the "This Is It" tour was giving him nightmares and cold sweats. He testified that he was "joking" in those emails.
Blanket, Paris, and Prince Michael Jackson (Getty Images)
Where Things Left Off: On the Friday before the closing arguments began, Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled that Katherine Jackson indeed had the right to seek damages because her son was her chief financial provider. The defense had argued that she didn't have standing due to income supplied for a significant period of time from her other successful children, including superstar daughter Janet.
"There is no evidence that Janet Jackson's contributions negated Katherine Jackson's reliance — to some extent — on [Michael Jackson's] contributions for the necessaries of life," the judge ruled.
With so much money at stake, it's understandable that the legal teams for both sides were extremely thorough in their arguments. Omg! spoke with TV legal analyst Darren Kavinoky, a criminal defense attorney at The Kavinoky Law Firm in California (which is not involved with this case), who's also the creator and host of "Deadly Sins" on Investigation Discovery.
"Both sides had strong moments, and certainly offered enough evidence and argument to allow jurors to hang their hats on to support aligning with one outcome or the other," he explains.
"The plaintiff side won the emotional battle. The well-orchestrated home movies and concert footage of Michael struck a strong emotional chord and reminded everyone of the loss suffered.
"The defense did an excellent job of appealing to left brains, and certainly anyone who feels that Michael's decisions were the sole cause of his death will find ample support.
"What could be the most troubling piece of evidence for the defense is the smoking gun email chain where an AEG exec is emphatic in wanting to remind Dr. Murray that he works for them. It wouldn't surprise me to hear jurors tell us that this was the item that tipped the scales in Jackson's favor.
So, What's Next?: It's hard to say definitively. "Cases are won or lost in jury selection," Kavinoky notes. "Either side may have a tremendously strong case, but if the audience isn't receptive to hearing it, their pleas will fall on deaf ears."
What will it mean if the jury comes back quickly, or conversely, takes a long time in their deliberations?
"In this case, a fast verdict favors the defense. The verdict form itself contains 16 separate questions for the jurors to answer, but if they answer 'no' to any of the first five, which all concern AEG's liability, that brings an end to the discussion and the defense wins. It is only if liability is established that the jurors would go on to calculate damages or concern themselves with comparative negligence, reducing the award by whatever percentage they deem Michael to have been responsible for his own death."
And what could the impact be for both sides?
"A loss for AEG is a business setback for a multibillion dollar concern. As bad as that may be for the stakeholders in that uber profitable enterprise, it pales in comparison to what a loss would mean emotionally to the Jackson kids."
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- Society & Culture
- Michael Jackson
- AEG Live
- Conrad Murray
- Katherine Jackson