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AEG not liable in Michael Jackson's death, jury finds

Juror says they believed Murray was capable, but not ethical

Alan Duke | 10/3/2013, 8:43 a.m.
Michael Jackson's mother told jurors she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against AEG Live "because I want to know what really happened to my son." Katherine Jackson is the final witness as her lawyers conclude their wrongful death case against the pop icon's last concert promoter in a Los Angeles court Friday, July 19, 2013. Sketches by Mona S. Edwards

— A Los Angeles jury decided Wednesday that AEG Live hired Dr. Conrad Murray, but also concluded that the concert promoter was not liable for Michael Jackson's drug overdose death.

The jury decided that Murray was competent, so even though AEG Live hired him, it was not liable for Jackson's death and didn't owe the Jackson family millions of dollars in compensation.

"I counted Michael Jackson a creative partner and a friend," the company's CEO Randy Phillips said. "We lost one of the world's greatest musical geniuses, but I am relieved and deeply grateful that the jury recognized that neither I, nor anyone else at AEG Live, played any part in Michael's tragic death."

The verdict brings the five-month-long trial to a close.

"We have said from the beginning that this case was a search for the truth. We found the truth. AEG hired Dr. Conrad Murray, the man who is in jail for killing Michael Jackson," according to a statement from family matriarch Katherine Jackson and her lawyers. "All options regarding the balance of the jury verdict are being considered."

The jury accepted AEG Live lawyers' arguments that the company was not negligent because its executives had no way of knowing that Murray -- licensed to practice in four states and never sued for malpractice -- was a risk to Jackson. The singer was a secretive drug addict who kept even his closest relatives in the dark about his use of propofol to sleep, they contended.

Jackson's mother and the singer's three children sued AEG Live in 2010, arguing that the company's negligence in hiring, retaining or supervising Murray was a factor in the singer's June 25, 2009, death.

Jackson died of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Murray told investigators he was using to treat the singer's insomnia so he could rest for rehearsals. Murray is set to be released from jail later this month after serving two years for involuntary manslaughter.

Jackson died just days before his comeback tour -- promoted and produced by AEG Live -- was set to debut in London in the summer of 2009.

"We felt (Murray) was competent" to be Jackson's general practitioner, said juror Greg Barden. "That doesn't mean we felt he was ethical."

Barden said jurors thought the second question -- which said, "Was Dr. Conrad Murray unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he was hired?" -- was confusing and took some time, and several votes, to work out. In the end, they voted 10-2 to answer "No."

He said one of the key pieces of evidence was the contract between Murray and AEG.

"The jury's decision completely vindicates AEG Live, confirming what we have known from the start -- that although Michael Jackson's death was a terrible tragedy, it was not a tragedy of AEG Live's making," attorney Marvin Putnam said in a written statement.

Murray's lawyer, Valerie Wass, let out a gasp when she heard the decision and was visibly shaken.

Because jurors concluded that AEG Live was not liable, they did not consider other questions on the verdict form that would have determined how much in damages the promoter would have paid Katherine, Prince, Paris and Blanket Jackson.

Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish suggested a range between $1 billion and $2 billion to replace the earnings lost by Jackson's death at age 50 and the non-economic -- or personal -- damages from the loss of a father and son.

The damage award, however, would have been reduced by the percentage of blame jurors decided Michael Jackson shared in his death. The Jacksons lawyer suggested in closing arguments that they assign 20% of the liability to Jackson.

AEG's lawyers had contended Jackson chose Murray, who had treated him for three years as a family physician, but Jackson lawyers had argued the promoters chose to negotiate their own contract with the doctor so they could control him.

The case is unlikely to end with the jury's verdict because Jackson lawyers have said they have grounds for an appeal, which could take years to decide.

Jurors appeared engaged and entertained during the 21-week trial that included dramatic testimony by Jackson's mother, son and former wife.

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