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Disbelief — and explanations — after AEG wins Michael Jackson case

Michael Jackson fans don't understand the verdict, but AEG says the case never should have gone to trial. And jurors didn't always speak with one voice.

October 02, 2013|By Victoria Kim, Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb
  • A Michael Jackson fan and her T-shirt speak out against AEG Live after the verdict.
A Michael Jackson fan and her T-shirt speak out against AEG Live after the… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

For the dedicated Michael Jackson fans who came to the trial day after day, the singer still could do little wrong. They wore T-shirts expressing their love for the singer and their support for his aged mother. One fan even brought a bouquet of red roses to give Katherine Jackson and her attorneys.

So when the judge announced Wednesday that jurors had decided AEG Live was not responsible for Jackson's death, they weren't just stunned, they were angry. They didn't understand how a five-month trial that seemed to expose the concert promoter as caring little about the singer's well-being could end this way.

"My heart is broken," said Barbara de L'Orme, 42. "This was the greatest artist that we ever had, and they treated him like this. The evidence was right there."

When Marvin Putnam, AEG Live's lead attorney, stood in front of the scrum of TV cameras, microphones and notebooks, fans could be heard shouting, "Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson!"

Putnam told reporters AEG never considered settling the case, which could have cost it hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars in damages if a jury had voted the other way. "They wouldn't allow themselves to be shaken down," he said.

The attorney said that he didn't think the case should have gone to trial and that the judge should have dismissed it early on. He admitted the verdict was an emotional one for him, and some people in the courtroom said they saw a tear slide down his cheek.

Shawn Trell, AEG Live's general counsel, was asked if the concert promoter and producer would negotiate a deal with a doctor again if an entertainer made such a request. "I think that answer is self-evident," he said.

Several jurors explained how they answered "no" to the question on the verdict form that asked whether Conrad Murray, the doctor who gave Jackson the fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol, was "unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he was hired."

Once they came to that conclusion, there was no need to answer the remaining 14 questions. Their work was done.

Gregg Barden, the jury foreman, said the verdict was not a vindication of Murray, who will soon be released from jail, where he is serving a sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

"Conrad Murray had a license; he graduated from an accredited college," Barden said.

Then he added, "It doesn't mean we thought he was ethical."

Juror Kevin Smith, 61, said he loved Jackson's music and his dancing. Still, he voted against the pop star's mother and three children.

"Murray," he said, "was fit and competent for the job he was hired for ... Michael Jackson thought he was competent enough."

He said AEG executives had tried to persuade Jackson not to bring Murray, who was supposed to be paid $150,000 a month, on tour with him. "Michael Jackson was very used to getting his own way.... If anybody said no, he would find somebody else," Smith said.

Barden said that when jurors were handed the case after closing arguments last Thursday afternoon, the first time they could talk about the case after spending five months listening to testimony, they spent several hours "letting off steam and talking about things."

They took three or four votes to answer the first question, "Did AEG Live hire Dr. Conrad Murray?" before agreeing unanimously that it had.

"Minds were changed," Barden said.

Some people felt that Murray was hired by both Jackson and AEG, he said.

On the second question, about whether Murray was incompetent, there was confusion when the court clerk polled jurors on their votes. However, after a couple of tries, they appeared to have taken a unanimous stand.

But outside the courthouse, Barden told a different story. He said jurors had started out 12-0 but finally came up with a 10-2 tally. Jurors in a civil case only need to vote 9-3, as opposed to the unanimous count needed in a criminal case.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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