LOS ANGELES — Michael Jackson died because of his own bad choices involving the drug that killed him and the doctor who provided it, not because of anything done by AEG Live, a lawyer for the producer of Jackson’s comeback concerts told jurors Wednesday.
Delivering his closing argument in the long-running negligence case by Jackson’s family, defense attorney Marvin Putnam said the secretive singer never told the producers that he was using the hospital anesthetic propofol to overcome his chronic insomnia.
If AEG Live had known, it would have pulled the plug on the planned tour, the lawyer said.
“AEG would have never agreed to finance this tour if they knew Mr. Jackson was playing Russian roulette in his bedroom every night,” Putnam told jurors.
Putnam also said AEG Live LLC tried to deter Jackson from hiring Dr. Conrad Murray, who was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in his death, but Jackson “wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Only after Jackson’s death, he said, did the company learn about the secret propofol treatments by Murray.
“AEG only learned the truth after Mr. Jackson passed,” Putnam said. “They heard for the first time what propofol was.”
Putnam stressed that it was Jackson, not AEG, who insisted on hiring Murray, a cardiologist who had befriended the pop star in Las Vegas three years earlier. Jackson, who was using him as a family doctor, told AEG that Murray was to be his physician for the “This Is It” shows in London, according to Putnam.
“He didn’t ask AEG,” the lawyer said. “He said, `We’re using this doctor.’ He was a grown man of 50 and as a grown man he is responsible for his own health and his own choices no matter how bad those choices may be.”
AEG told Jackson there were great doctors in London but the singer would not be deterred, Putnam said.
“It was his money and he certainly wasn’t going to take no for an answer,” he said.
Murray was convicted in 2011 after giving Jackson an overdose of propofol on the day he died in 2009. The drug is not meant to be used outside operating rooms.
With Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine, a plaintiff in the suit, seated in a front row, Putnam reminded jurors that she said she wanted to know the truth about her son’s demise. But she also testified that she closed her ears when she heard bad things about him, he said.
He accused lawyers for the Jackson family of asking jurors to close their ears to facts surrounding the actions of the singer.
“He made some bad choices that resulted in a horrible tragedy. You can’t blame someone else for his bad choices,” Putnam said.
A day earlier, a lawyer for Katherine Jackson had portrayed AEG Live executives and Murray as mercenaries who sacrificed the pop star’s life in a quest to boost their own fortunes.
Attorney Brian Panish said a $150,000-a-month contract to care for Jackson on tour was a lifeline to help Murray climb out of his financial troubles. He blamed AEG executives for failing to realize Murray was unfit for the job.
“Obviously, he was incompetent and unfit,” Panish said. “He caused the death of Michael Jackson.”
The courtroom atmosphere was starkly changed Wednesday. Panish had brought Hollywood dazzle, showing professionally produced videos of the superstar’s life and home movies of him with his children when they were babies.
Putnam, however, focused his argument solely on the law and the evidence jurors had seen during the five-month trial. He showed emails and excerpts from proposed contracts, arguing that there never was a contract between Murray and AEG.
At one point he showed excerpts from “This is It,” the documentary about rehearsals for the London concerts. He pointed out that Jackson appeared in control, performing perfectly on a rendition of “Earth Song.”
“And 12 hours later, he was dead,” Putnam said.
Judging from the footage, AEG could not have known the singer was receiving nightly doses of propofol from Murray, Putnam said.
“AEG Live did not have a crystal ball,” he said. “Dr. Murray and Mr. Jackson fooled everyone. They want to blame AEG for something no one saw.”
A key issue in the negligence suit is whether AEG Live or Michael Jackson hired Murray.
Putnam said if jurors find AEG didn’t do the hiring, their work will be done and they need not decide other questions involving damages.
He ridiculed the plaintiffs for suggesting in documents that AEG should pay $1.5 billion in damages. He said that figure was based on expert witness speculation on how much Jackson could have earned but asserted that damages cannot be based on speculation.
Panish will get a chance Thursday to rebut Putnam’s argument before the case is submitted to jurors. A unanimous verdict is not required in the case. Only nine of the 12 jurors must agree.