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Michael Jackson on deathbed looked like cancer patient, witness says

'He looked like someone who was at the end stage of a long disease,' paramedic testifies in Michael Jackson family's wrongful-death suit against AEG.

April 30, 2013|By Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times
  • Paramedic Richard Senneff, shown in a file photo, was the first witness for the plaintiffs in the wrongful-death suit against entertainment giant AEG brought by Michael Jackson's mother and three children.
Paramedic Richard Senneff, shown in a file photo, was the first witness… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Pale and emaciated, Michael Jackson lay on his bed in his $100,000-a-month Holmby Hills mansion looking like an end-stage cancer patient who had come home to die.

The scene inside the house where Jackson lived as he prepared for a comeback tour was described Tuesday in stark detail by Richard Senneff, the lead-off witness in a wrongful-death case brought by the pop legend's mother and three children against entertainment firm AEG.

An earlier version of this article said the monthly rent on Michael Jackson's Holmby Hills mansion was $150,000. The rent was $100,000 a month.

Stacked around Jackson that day in June 2009 were oxygen tanks, an intravenous drip and an emergency breathing aid, the Los Angeles City Fire Department paramedic testified. The singer's ribs were visible on his thin body, his eyes were dilated and dry, his lips were a faint blue and an IV was attached on the inside of his lower left calf.

"He looked like someone who was at the end stage of a long disease," Senneff testified.

Senneff said he asked Dr. Conrad Murray, who was standing nearby, if Jackson had a "do not resuscitate" order.

"Dr. Murray looked at me blankly at first," Senneff said, answering questions from Brian Panish, the Jackson family's attorney. Then the doctor said, "No, no, this just happened."

Senneff said he could not find a pulse and concluded that the pop star had been dead for as long as an hour.

"It didn't make sense that it had just happened," Senneff testified.

The testimony appeared aimed at convincing jurors that Murray was in over his head in treating Jackson and unfit to take even basic lifesaving steps such as CPR to save his famous client's life.

The wrongful-death suit, which is playing out in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, contends that Murray was a hired hand for AEG and under firm orders to make sure Jackson pulled off the upcoming "This Is It" concerts no matter what.

Panish said outside the courtroom that Murray's desperate need to pull himself out of a financial hole conflicted with his care for his patient. If Jackson did not perform his 50 comeback concerts scheduled at the O2 Arena in London, Panish said, the doctor would not receive the $150,000 a month outlined in his contract with AEG.

AEG's attorneys have countered that it was Jackson who wanted to perform again to help erase his own massive debt and who insisted on using Murray, who had treated him the previous three years. And the contract, lawyers for the entertainment firm said, was never signed by AEG or Jackson.

Much of Senneff's testimony echoed what he said during Murray's 2011 criminal trial, in which the doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for administering the fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to Jackson. Murray is completing a jail sentence in that case.

On Tuesday, Jackson's mother, Katherine, and brother Randy left the courtroom before the paramedic testified about the details of the entertainer's death.

Senneff testified that Murray, who was sweating and appeared frantic on the day in question, said he was treating Jackson for dehydration and exhaustion and that the singer was not taking medication.

After moving Jackson to a gurney downstairs, Senneff returned to the singer's bedroom to retrieve his medical equipment and bumped into Murray. He said the physician looked like "a deer in the headlights."

"When I came through the door, he froze and he was obviously surprised to see someone come in," Senneff said. He said Murray, who had identified himself as Jackson's cardiologist, had a white plastic bag in his hand and was picking something up, although Senneff couldn't make it out.

A Los Angeles police detective, the second witness called to the stand by the plaintiffs, said Jackson's room appeared to have been cleaned up.

Orlando Martinez said he arrived at the singer's home shortly after Jackson's death and noticed empty spaces near stacks of items, indicating that some things had been removed. He later found bottles of propofol and anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium and Ativan and syringes in bags tucked into a closet.

Martinez said that at first he was leaning toward classifying Jackson's death as "accidental or natural" until he learned of Murray's financial trouble.

The doctor's Las Vegas house, on which he owed more than $1.6 million, was being foreclosed on. He owed hundreds of thousands in tax liens, child support and other debts, and he had closed his office to work with one patient — Jackson — for $150,000 a month.

Martinez said Murray's debts led him to believe, "for this easy money, the $150,000, he may break the rules, bend the rules to do whatever he needed to get paid," the detective testified. "It might solve his money problems."

Martinez was also a witness in Murray's 2011 preliminary hearing. The detective testified at the time that the doctor said Jackson had begged him for propofol, saying his comeback wouldn't be possible without the drug.

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