A Los Angeles county paramedic who responded to an emergency call from Michael Jackson's doctor has testified as the first witness in the legal battle between Jackson's family and his concert promoter, AEG Live.
Richard Senneff, a veteran paramedic and firefighter, recounted on Tuesday to a packed courtroom the doomed efforts to save Jackson at his home and in an ambulance on the way to hospital in June 2009.
The hearing followed opening arguments on Monday by lawyers from both sides, setting the stage for a lengthy civil trial in which Jackson's family is suing AEG for wrongful death.
Jackson died at the age of 50 while preparing for This Is It, a series of comeback shows. His physician, Conrad Murray, was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for giving him the surgical anaesthetic propofol as a sleep aid.
Senneff repeated testimony he gave in the Murray trial, describing how he initially thought Jackson was perhaps a hospice patient. "He looked like someone who was at the end stage of a long disease process," he said. Jackson was not breathing and appeared to be dead when paramedics arrived, said Senneff.
Brian Panish, representing the Jackson family, said on Monday that AEG executives were "ruthless guys" who ignored Jackson's health problems and pressured Murray so the company could overtake its competitor, Live Nation, as the US's biggest concert promoter. "They wanted to be number one at all costs."
Murray's battered reputation took a further mauling from Orlando Martinez, an LAPD detective who investigated Jackson's death, when he testified after Senneff.
Martinez said his investigation revealed the doctor was in financial straits: his Las Vegas home was in foreclosure proceedings and he had a string of unpaid debts, including child support.
Martinez said he believed Murray's actions were motivated by the $150,000 a month he expected to be paid by AEG in the run-up to Jackson's concerts. "He may break the rules, bend the rules, do whatever he needed to do to get paid," Martinez said. "It might solve his money problems."
On Monday Panish used slides to show that AEG "hired and controlled" Murray and 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 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."
Panish ratcheted up sentiment by playing a song Jackson wrote and recorded for his three children titled You Are My Life, prompting tears from the singer's mother.
Both sides skirmished on Tuesday over Jackson's siblings. AEG expects to call Janet, Jermaine, Jackie, Tito, La Toya, Rebbie and Randy Jackson as defence witnesses to detail their late brother's drug addiction. There was a risk in allowing any of them in the courtroom before they testified, said AEG's attorney, Marvin Putnam.
He asked the judge to banish Randy, the only sibling in court on Tuesday. Panish, the family lawyer, responded that Jackson's mother, Katherine, 82, needed one of her children to sit with her each day. She sat in the front row, feet from jurors. "He can remain but you cannot have five in the courtroom," ruled Judge Yvette Palazuelos.
Putnam warned the jury on Monday that AEG would reveal dark sides of Jackson to defend itself. "We're going to show some ugly stuff."
The concert promotor could not have known Jackson was using propofol or the depth of his addiction to prescription drugs, he said. "The truth is Michael Jackson fooled everyone. He made sure that no one – nobody – knew his deepest, darkest secrets."
Putnam told the jury of six men and six women that Jackson hired Murray and ultimately was responsible for his own demise. "This case is about personal choices. Also it was about his personal responsibility. There's no question that Michael Jackson's death was a terrible tragedy. I believe the evidence will show it was not a tragedy of AEG Live's making."
Only 16 journalists and a few members of the public – their seats decided by lottery – attend because many of the 45 seats are reserved for parties involved in a trial.
The witness list includes Diana Ross, Prince, Spike Lee, Quincy Jones, Jackson's own family and his ex-wives Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe.
The judge denied TV networks' requests to televise the trial, curbing some of the circus-like atmosphere.
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