By LINDA DEUTSCH and ANTHONY MCCARTNEY, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ With a jury’s refusal to hold a concert promoter responsible for Michael Jackson’s death, the late singer’s mother lost perhaps her last best chance to collect millions in damages and place blame for her son’s untimely demise.
“I’m OK,” was all that the Jackson family matriarch said as she moved slowly out of a courtroom after hearing Wednesday’s stunning verdict denying her claim for as much as $1.5 billion and giving her nothing.
Some called it the Jackson family’s last stand in court, a longshot effort that may have been doomed by the singer’s own history of addiction struggles and headstrong decision-making when it came to his medical care. All of it came out in this trial, and while Jackson’s musical triumphs live on, his image took a serious hit.
His mother’s grief was on display almost daily as she sat In the courtroom gallery with a bulky bodyguard and listened to the story of her son’s troubled life emerge from the shadows that long surrounded it.
Jurors said they believed Dr. Conrad Murray, who went to prison for giving Jackson an overdose of the drug propofol, was hired by AEG Live LLC at Jackson’s behest, but they found that he was competent to do the job for which he was hired _ to act as a general practitioner looking after the star on his planned “This Is It” concert tour.
“Michael Jackson was a big star,” said juror Kevin Smith. “He wanted this doctor and if anyone said no they were out of the mix.”
Smith said he believed that had AEG Live executives known that Murray was giving Jackson the hospital anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid they would have cancelled his concerts.
In his final argument, AEG lawyer Marvin S. Putnam said, “AEG would have never agreed to finance this tour if they knew Mr. Jackson was playing Russian roulette in his bedroom every night.”
Murray, convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter, is due to be released from prison later this month. He told NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday that he cried tears of relief when he heard that a jury rejected the Jackson family’s negligence lawsuit, even though he always believed it was frivolous.
Jury foreman Gregg Barden suggested the verdict should not be seen as a vindication of AEG Live nor an endorsement of Murray.
“That doesn’t mean we felt he was ethical,” Barden said of Murray after the verdict.
“There really are no winners in this,” the foreman said. “…It took the tragic passing of a tremendous father, son and brother for us to even be here. And of course nobody wanted that.
“We reached a verdict that we understand that not everybody is going to agree with. But the decision was reached after very careful consideration.”
In the aftermath, Putnam said he wished the case had never come to trial and thought it should have been dismissed by Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos. But he said AEG never considered settling the case. He called the plaintiffs’ original claim of $40.2 billion “ridiculous.” That was later amended to $1.5 billion.
“AEG didn’t do anything wrong and would not allow themselves to be shaken down,” Putnam said.
He stressed that AEG Live it was not just a company defending itself but “real people who have been accused of killing Michael Jackson.” He said the attack on executives was unwarranted, that many of them loved Jackson and were concerned with his welfare. He said the verdict vindicated them.
The lawyers who stood on the courthouse steps were repeating a ritual seen many times in Jackson’s life and beyond. His last years were plagued with legal cases including a child molestation trial in which he was acquitted. After his death at the age of 50, the trial in which Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter probed Jackson’s family secrets as did the civil suit.
More than four years after his death, the negligence suit by his mother offered an unprecedented look into the singer’s addiction struggles, concert preparations and his role as a parent.
At five months, it was the longest of any trial involving Jackson and gave the jury an inside look of his homes, concerts and even the offices of his doctors. His son, Prince, and his ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, were witnesses.
If there was anything unexplored about the singer’s life, it was not evident. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Brian Panish, appealed to jurors’ hearts, focusing on the tragedy of the singer’s death in a series of videos showing Jackson’s show business triumphs as well as his home life with three children who clearly adored him.
Panish claimed in his closing argument that the lure of riches turned AEG executives into mercenaries who sacrificed the pop star’s life in a quest to boost their own fortunes.
AEG Live’s lawyers framed the case as being about personal choice, saying Jackson made bad choices about the drug that killed him and the doctor who provided it.
They said he was the architect of his own demise and no one else can be blamed.
AEG presented a parade of Jackson’s physicians but also endured harsh scrutiny of its own business practices.
Katherine Jackson’s attorneys said they were disappointed by the verdict but would consider further legal options. Attorney Kevin Boyle said s that the case served an important purpose.
“We think that what we’ve done with this case is prove some things that are important for the Jackson family and for the concert industry and the sports industry with regards to treatment by doctors,” Boyle said.
Putnam said he hoped there would be no appeal.
“Sadly, the children have been through a lot,” he said, “and that has to be taken into consideration in the decision on how much longer to continue with this.”
Jackson’s mother and his three children are supported by his estate, which provides a comfortable lifestyle for them and erased hundreds of millions of dollars in debts by debuting new projects and releasing new music featuring the King of Pop.
Associated Press Writer Greg Risling contributed to this report. McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)