After nearly five months of testimony, much of it focused on the mental and physical health of one of the world’s most celebrated entertainers, the Michael Jackson wrongful death case moved closer to a verdict Monday as the judge read her instructions to jurors.
The Jackson family’s attorneys will give their closing arguments Tuesday, followed the next day by lawyers for concert producer and promoter AEG. On Thursday, the Jacksons’ lawyers will do their rebuttal.
After that, the case will be in the hands of the jurors.
Because of the expected media crush, final arguments have been moved to a much larger courtroom, one that holds more than 300 people. The courtroom where the trial played out holds about 50 people, and at one point the fire marshal forced the court to reduce the number of spectators.
Jurors are being asked to decide whether AEG, which was promoting what was to be Jackson’s 2009 comeback concerts, is responsible for the singer’s death.
Jackson’s mother and three children sued the entertainment firm, saying it negligently hired Conrad Murray, the Las Vegas doctor who administered a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to help Jackson sleep. At the time, Jackson was rehearsing for a 50-concert engagement in London, possibly to be followed by a worldwide tour.
AEG argues that Murray worked for Jackson and that any money it was supposed to pay the physician was actually an advance to the singer.
“Our claim is why would AEG want a contract with Dr. Murray if they didn’t want some control over him,” Jackson attorney Kevin Boyle said outside the courtroom.
AEG negotiated Murray’s $150,000 a month deal, and neither Jackson nor his representatives saw a draft of the contract. Murray signed the contract the day before Jackson died in June 2009, but his is the only signature on the contract.
Murray, who gave Jackson the anesthetic at the singer’s rented Holmby Hills mansion, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is serving a jail sentence. He invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked to give a deposition in the wrongful death case, Boyle said, and did not testify.
Unlike a criminal case, the jury does not have to find beyond a reasonable doubt, “only that it is more likely to be true than not true,” Judge Yvette Palazuelos told jurors. Also unlike a criminal trial, the verdict does not have to be unanimous, only 9 to 3.
AEG attorney Marvin Putnam said the Jacksons have no proof to back up their case.
“This has never been anything other than a shakedown,” he said.
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