After hearing 58 witnesses over 83 days of testimony, it’s now up to the jurors in the Michael Jackson billion-dollar wrongful death trial to figure out whether entertainment giant AEG Live, which was promoting what was to be the King of Pop’s 50-concert comeback tour at London’s 02 Arena, is liable for his drug-induced death.
Jackson died in June of 2009—as he was rehearsing for the sold out “This Is It” tour—after he was administered a fatal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol for his chronic sleep disorder at a rented Holmby Hills estate while under the care of cardiologist, Dr. Conrad Murray. In September of 2010, Jackson’s 83-year-old mother, Katherine, and his three children, Paris, Blanket, and Prince, filed a negligence lawsuit claiming among other things that AEG Live ignored Jackson’s health problems and drug addictions and pushed the singer too hard to prepare for the concerts. AEG Live has maintained they had no idea about Jackson’s penchant for nightly propofol-induced hazes courtesy of Murray and that the 50-year-old singer was an addict long before he entered into any agreements with the corporation.
The high-stakes trial, which has spanned over 21 weeks and included the presence of quirky Jackson fans who lined up daily for coveted public seats raffled off each morning, has included allegations of cover-ups, greedy doctors who outdid each other to keep Jackson supplied in drugs, and gut-wrenching testimony from Jackson’s son Prince about Jackson’s final days.
Here are five facts to bring you up to speed before the verdict is delivered.
1. There’s a Billion Dollars on the Line
$1.5 billion to be exact. That’s the amount Jackson’s attorneys claim the pop star could have made if he had lived—from proceeds from a world tour, endorsements, new recordings, and a Las Vegas show that was allegedly in the works. The family is seeking at least $290 million in personal damages, to be divvied up between the four plaintiffs: $85 million a piece for Paris, Blanket, and Prince and $35 million for the Jackson matriarch. That’s not including economic damages, which could spiral up into ten figures. AEG Live has scoffed at Jackson’s “lost earning capacity,” putting the number closer to $21 million, which is the amount of money AEG Live's expert figured Jackson would have handed over to his mother and three children over a span of 16 years. It would have been impossible for the pop star to dole out more coin because he had a $400 million debt that was getting bigger, said AEG Live’s attorney Marvin Putnam. "If Mr. Jackson had lived, it's hard to see how he would ever have dug himself out of that hole," he said.
2. Prince Jackson Took the Stand
By far the most gripping testimony in the trial came from Jackson’s 16-year-old son, Prince, who described in heartbreaking detail how his dad complained to him weeks before his death that AEG Live was “killing him.” “He would get off the phone and cry sometimes,” he said about his father’s tense conversations with ex-manager Dr. Tohme Tohme and AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips. Prince also told jurors he witnessed Murray give Jackson injections of clear liquid in the library, sitting room, and the second-floor bedroom. Prince said he believed it was for “protein.” “I was 12,” he said. “To my understanding [Murray] was supposed to make sure my dad stayed healthy.” Prince said he noticed that his father wasn’t feeling well a few weeks before his death. His father, he said, would complain about being “freezing cold” or too hot. “He was definitely not strong enough,” he said. On the day of Jackson’s 2009 death, Prince said he was downstairs when he heard a scream and ran to the kitchen to see what was going on. He said he went upstairs and saw Murray performing CPR on Jackson, who “was hanging half off the bed and his eyes rolled behind his head.” He said Murray was screaming while he was performing the CPR. His sister Paris, he said, was also screaming. Later, Prince said, Murray told him that Jackson died of a heart attack. “‘Sorry kids. Dad's dead,’” he said Murray told him. “I just cried.”
3. So Did Debbie Rowe
Jackson’s ex-wife, who was called as a witness by AEG Live and is the mother of Prince and Paris, gave the most frank commentary on the singer’s health issues, his addiction troubles, and her attempts to get him into rehab. Rowe, who met Jackson while she was working for Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein, said the pop star suffered from a number of painful skin conditions, including vitiglio, a condition that causes depigmentation of parts of skin, discoid lupis, a chronic skin condition characterized by sores and inflammation, and bumpy scars called keloids from the horrific burns he received on his scalp during the 1984 filming of the infamous Pepsi commercial where Jackson’s hair caught on fire.
According to Rowe, Klein and other physicians would inject cortisone into the tissue to soften the scar, a surgical procedure she recalled as being “horribly painful.” Doctors also inserted a “tissue expander” that would spread out the healthy skin on his head. The “brutally painful” procedure entailed filling a flap with saline every seven days or so to stretch the skin on the singer’s head. Rowe said Jackson was self-conscious about his skin troubles and often likened himself to the Elephant Man. “For him to have all this going on and to be in public, it was really, really difficult for him,” she said. Jackson, she said, didn’t handle the procedures well and was fearful of pain and needles, and when the pain was so intense he would get “blind migraines” and break out into a cold sweat. However, he was fiercely loyal to his doctors, some of whom she said took advantage of his lack of pain tolerance and pain fears. “The very rich, very poor, and the very famous get the worst medical care,” she said on the witness stand. “The very rich can buy it, the very poor can’t get any, and the very famous can dictate it.” Rowe also broke down on the stand when she recalled her 15-year-old daughter Paris’s suicide attempt. "She tried to kill herself," Rowe said. "She is devastated. She has no life. She doesn't feel she has a life anymore."
Paris landed in the hospital on June 5 after she downed a bunch of Motrin and cut herself with a butcher's knife. Rowe admitted she suggested that she and Jackson have a child after his divorce from Lisa Marie Presley in 1996. "I was trying to help him," Rowe recalled. "I said, ‘What's the thing that makes you the saddest?’ He said, ‘I never had any children.’”
"I wanted him to be a father," she said. "I wanted him to have everything he didn't have growing up. I wanted him to experience it with his own child, with his own children...I believe there are certain people who need to be parents, and I always thought he was one of them."
After 21 weeks of testimony, one thing remains clear: Jackson liked propofol, a lot. At least a decade before Jackson died from an overdose of the powerful anesthetic (administered by Murray), he summoned Dr. Christine Quinn to a Beverly Hills hotel in 1998 or 1999 and asked her to give him propofol. Quinn, who met the singer while he was undergoing dental work, said she refused the request and told Jackson it wasn't right to use propofol as a sleep aid. "I told him that the sleep you get with anesthesia is not real sleep, not restful sleep," Quinn testified.
Rowe also told jurors that she witnessed Jackson sedated with propofol on a couple of occasions, once during Jackson’s mid-90s European tour, when his Munich hotel room was converted into a hospital room replete with propofol administered by a German medical team at the behest of Jackson’s internist Dr. Allan Metzger so the infamous insomniac could get some sleep. Worried about the potential dangers of the drug, Rowe, who was married to the singer at the time, asked him if he was concerned about dying from the drug; he responded that he was more perturbed about not sleeping.
David Fournier, a certified nurse anesthetist who first worked with Jackson in 1993, told jurors he administered propofol to Jackson 14 times for a variety of procedures including dental treatment, collagen injections, scalp issues, and tattooing on his lips and eyes between 2000 and 2003. Jackson, he said, referred to the drug as “the milk.” Nurse practitioner Cherilyn Lee told jurors that Jackson asked her for propofol to help him sleep two months before his death. Lee said she warned Jackson that propofol was dangerous when used at home, but the singer was adamant that doctors told him he would be OK as long as he was monitored. "His demeanor was, 'I have to have this. I have to have this to sleep. You don't understand, I have not had a good night's sleep,'" Lee said.
5. Jackson’s final days
Jackson’s tour director Kenny Ortega testified in court that he had serious concerns about the singer’s health just weeks before the tour was set to begin. Jackson was missing rehearsals, and he was showing signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior. On June 19, just days before Jackson’s death, Ortega said Jackson showed up several hours late for a costume fitting and was cold and shivering. Jackson started complaining of back pain, his balance was off, and he was losing weight.Ortega also said that he believed Jackson was under the influence of something during at least four rehearsals. The drug-induced behavior seemed to follow visits to Murray.
Ortega said he tried to reach out to Murray first, and then to AEG Live and Jackson’s family. He said Murray told him not to worry and that Jackson was in good shape to perform in the upcoming tour. Ortega then sounded the alarm bells with AEG Live Chief Executive Randy Phillips informing him in an email of his concerns. "I think the very best thing we can do is get a top psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP. I honestly felt if I had encouraged or allowed him on stage last night he could have hurt himself. I believe we need professional guidance in this matter."