WASHINGTON – The promoters of Michael Jackson’s doomed last tour should pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to the late pop icon’s family over his 2009 death, a lawyer said in closing arguments Tuesday.
In a heartstrings-tugging final presentation wrapping up a five-month trial, attorney Brian Panish urged jurors to award $85 million to each of the star’s three children and $35 million to his mother in so-called noneconomic damages, such as the loss of love and comfort.
On top of that were economic damages, for which he did not set a figure, but cited analyses suggesting that the self-styled King of Pop could have made up to $1.6 million if he had lived and pursued a comeback world tour.
In the day’s most arresting moment, he played a 15-minute video compilation of Jackson’s hits, including “Thriller” and the star moonwalking to “Billie Jean,” combined with home-movie clips of the singer playing with his children.
“That, I think, is the best evidence of whether Mr. Jackson could have sold tickets,” he said after the extended video, which left some of the dozens of fans in court sobbing and hugging each other.
Panish insisted, however, that he wasn’t trying to play on the jury’s emotions. “We’re not looking for sympathy, we’re looking for justice,” he told the trial, which moved to a larger 300-person capacity courtroom for its final stage.
Presiding Judge Yvette Palazuelos unexpectedly ruled that the final few days of the trial, which started in April, could be televised.
Jackson died on June 25, 2009, from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol at his rented mansion outside Los Angeles, where he was rehearsing for the “This is It” tour at London’s O2 Arena. He was 50 years old.
Dr. Conrad Murray, a cardiologist, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a criminal trial in 2011 for administering the drug to the star — who suffered from chronic insomnia — to help him sleep.
Murray was jailed for four years.
In the civil trial, the singer’s mother, Katherine Jackson, 83, alleges that AEG Live negligently hired an inappropriate and incompetent doctor and missed a series of red flags about his failing health in the run-up to his death.
“They chose not to check anything about Dr. Murray’s background. . . . They chose to run the risk, to make a huge profit, and they lost and they’re responsible,” Panish said.
“AEG wanted the King of Pop in their arena in London. They would do whatever it took to get him on stage. . . . They were so excited about how much money they were going to make,” he added.
“They knew what they were getting. Now they want to come in and deny it.”
If the jury decides in the Jackson family’s claims, Panish suggested it split whatever compensation amount they decide on in the ratio of 30 percent for each of the three children, and 10 percent for Jackson’s mother, “because Katherine has a lesser life expectancy.”
But he stressed that the jury would make the final decision. “That’s up to you,” he said.
AEG Live counters that it did not sign a contract with Murray, and that a promised $150,000 a month for his services would come from an advance it was making to Jackson, meaning effectively that the star hired his own doctor.
The issue of who hired Murray is crucial to the case, and Panish replayed video clips of AEG Live CEO Randy Philips, in which he told Sky News that Murray was “willing to leave his practice for a very large sum of money.
“So we hired him,” said Philips, in what could prove decisive in the jurors’ decision-making process.