Billions at stake in trial over Michael Jackson's death

Katherine and her son Michael Jackson arriving at court as he prepared to face child molestation charges. Photo/AP
Katherine and her son Michael Jackson arriving at court as he prepared to face child molestation charges. Photo/AP

Jury selection is set to begin in a long-awaited trial in which Michael Jackson's mother is seeking billions of dollars from tour promoters she says are responsible for her son's 2009 death.

Katherine Jackson, 82, accuses AEG Live of negligently hiring doctor Conrad Murray to look after the King of Pop as he rehearsed in Los Angeles for a doomed series of London shows.

Murray, jailed after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 for giving the singer an overdose of the drug propofol, could be called to testify in the wrongful death case, although he may refuse to do so.

Katherine Jackson herself, as well as the late pop star's two elder children, will also give evidence in the trial that comes nearly four years after his death, and could last more than two months.

Jury selection in the Los Angeles Superior Court was delayed early Tuesday over a legal argument about television coverage of the proceedings.

Broadcasters CNN and NBC are pressing Judge Yvette Palazuelos to allow live coverage, noting that it was granted for the Murray trial two years ago. Their lawyers pressed her again Tuesday, after she denied a CNN request on March 7.

Jackson died aged 50 at his Los Angeles mansion on June 25, 2009, from an overdose of propofol, a powerful sedative administered by Murray to help the Thriller legend deal with chronic insomnia.

At the time of his death, he was rehearsing for a series of 50 shows in London, organized with Anschutz Entertainment Group in what was seen as an attempt to revive his career and also ease his financial woes.

Jackson's mother argues that AEG Live pushed her son too hard to prepare for the performances.

But AEG says Jackson had a history of drug abuse long before the singer met Murray, who was hired to care for him before and during the shows at London's O2 Arena.

The trial on Katherine Jackson's civil lawsuit was put off until after Murray's 2011 criminal trial was over, and legal wrangling also delayed a scheduled September start.

Lawyers have notably argued over what should and should not be admitted as evidence.

Palazuelos has granted an AEG demand for testimony about child molestation charges against Jackson to be heard - which his mother says are irrelevant - claiming it could explain the star's stress and medical woes.

But she has refused to allow testimony notably about the parentage of Jackson's three children, or a bizarre incident in which his mother was allegedly kidnapped by family members and taken to Arizona last year.

Murray may be called from prison to give a deposition, but only with the jury out of the courtroom. And he may invoke his Fifth Amendment right to decline to testify in a case that might incriminate him further.

A CNN interview with Murray, conducted before the start of the trial, was to be aired later Tuesday.

AEG claims it was not responsible for hiring and supervising Murray.

"He was chosen by Michael Jackson, to be there at Michael Jackson's behest, to be Michael Jackson's doctor alone," AEG lawyer Marvin Putman told CNN. "Michael Jackson was the only person who could get rid of him."

According to celebrity news website TMZ, Jackson's mother and his three children - Prince, 16, Paris, 14 and 11-year-old Blanket - want more than $40 billion from AEG for loss of future earnings and other damages.

AEG claims the figure is "preposterous" because Jackson's career was in a downward spiral following the child molestation allegations, as well as self-imposed exile in the Middle East, TMZ reported.

Jackson family attorney Kevin Boyle rejected the report, telling CNN: "No demand has been made by the Jackson family for $40 billion from AEG. That is just not true."

- AFP

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