Lawyers for Michael Jackson's mother have accused the concert promoter AEG Live of contributing to his premature death in the opening salvo of what promises to a lengthy, celebrity-packed trial in Los Angeles.
Brian Panish, the lead attorney for Katherine Jackson, 82, outlined his case in opening statements on Monday in a cramped courtroom which will lay bare anew details of the performer's life and demise in a wrongful death lawsuit.
"His stirring voice, his musical genius, his creativity and his generosity and his huge heart was extinguished forever," Panish told a jury of six men and six women. "You're going to hear the whole story about what happened in the death of Michael Jackson."
Jackson died in Los Angeles in July 2009, aged 50, while preparing for This Is It comeback shows that were due to start in London. His physician, Conrad Murray, was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson the surgical anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid.
Panish used slides to illustrate his case that AEG "hired and controlled" Murray and that it ignored "red flags" about Jackson's health to keep the concert schedule on track. "They didn't care who got lost in the wash."
He said three parties were at fault: "Michael Jackson, Dr Conrad Murray and AEG Live each played a part in the ultimate result, the death of Michael Jackson,"
Lawyers for AEG were due to make their own opening statements later on Monday. The company has said Jackson hired Murray, that the company could not have anticipated the doctor would blunder and that Jackson was responsible for his own demise. Its legal team has signalled it will revisit child molestation charges and other low points in Jackson's career to show his mental and physical state.
In the run-up to Monday's hearing AEG's lawyers said the Jackson family hoped to gouge $40bn from the company in supposed forfeited earnings and damages but Panish denied that, saying the figure was invented to prejudice the Jackson's case.
"We've never asked for $40bn," he said, speaking to reporters before the hearing. "The jury is going to decide what the loss is." The case was not about money, he added. "It's about getting the truth. We'd like to get out all the evidence. The evidence is going to speak for itself that AEG had a lot of involvement and they completely deny responsibility."
AEG Live is part of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, an entertainment industry giant which owns clubs and sports arenas around the world.
Panish said the singer's family and friends knew of his addiction to prescription drugs, especially Demerol, yet AEG professed ignorance when contracting him for a gruelling series of concerts.
He claimed the company felt under financial pressure to go ahead with the lucrative shows and that it contracted Murray, a Houston-based cardiologist under financial pressure himself, to ensure the frail, troubled singer attended rehearsals.
Panish cited what will be a key element in plaintiff's case: an email the promoter's co-CEO, Paul Gongaware, wrote to show director Kenny Ortega 11 days before Jackson's death. "We want to remind [Murray] that it is AEG, not MJ, who is paying his salary. We want to remind him what is expected of him."
Some jurors took notes as he spoke. Katherine Jackson, her youngest son Randy and oldest daughter Rebbie sat in the front row, a few feet away from jurors in the small LA county superior court.
Only 16 journalists and a few members of the public are to be allowed to attend because many of the 45 seats are reserved for parties involved in a trial with an extensive witness list including Diana Ross, Prince, Spike Lee, Quincy Jones, Jackson's own family, his ex-wives Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, and other celebrities.
The judge, Yvette Palazuelos denied TV networks' requests to televise the trial, draining some of the circus-like atmosphere around proceedings. Even so, satellite trucks and fans thronged the pavement outside.
Observers predicted the trial will last months. Jurors will each earn $15 a day for their service.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010