Just days before Michael Jackson died, the director of his comeback tour confronted Dr. Conrad Murray about Jackson’s health, saying the king of pop was incoherent at times and unable to rehearse.
The testimony of Kenny Ortega, the co-director of Jackson’s “This Is It” tour, was as startling as the opening statements by the prosecution and Murray’s attorney.
Just minutes into his opening, prosecutor David Walgren showed the courtroom of photo of a ghostly Jackson lying dead in a hospital bed, draped by a hospital gown. He also played a tape of a conversation with Jackson during which a “drugged-up” Michael slurred his words so badly the prosecutors had to run captions on the screen so jurors could understand what Jackson was saying.
Murray’s attorney Ed Chernoff, told the court in his opening that Murray isn’t to blame for Jackson’s death, that Jackson gave himself a dose of drugs that killed him so quickly Jackson “didn’t even have time to close his eyes.”
Murray could face four years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Ortega, the first witness called by the prosecution, said that on June 19, 2009, less than a week before Jackson was found dead from a drug overdose, Jackson arrived at rehearsal unwell.
“My friend wasn’t right,” Ortega said of Jackson. “There was something going on that was deeply troubling me.”
Ortega said Jackson appeared lost and incoherent. He rubbed Jackson’s chilled feet and fed him food when it was clear he hadn’t eaten.
Ortega was so disturbed by Jackson’s state that he sent an email to Randy Phillips of AEG Live, the concert promoter, saying that “real emotional stuff” was going on and that “everything in me says that Jackson should be psychologically evaluated.”
“There is no one taking responsibility, caring for him on a daily basis … today I was feeding him, wrapping him in blankets … and calling his doctor,” Ortega wrote.
He later wrote, “Finally, it’s important for everyone to know, I believe that he really wants this. It would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug. He’s terribly frightened it’s all going to go away.”
Jackson was preparing for a grueling 50-city comeback tour at the time of his death on June 25, 2009. The tour was to be his first in more than a decade and was of great personal importance. It would be the first time that Jackson’s three children would see him perform, Walgren said.
On June 20, 2009, an emergency meeting was called at Jackson’s home that included Ortega, Murray and Jackson. Murray grew angry over Ortega’s worries about Jackson’s health, the director said.
“He said I should stop trying to be an amateur doctor and psychologist and be the director and leave Michael’s health to him,” Ortega said.
Paul Gongaware, co-CEO of AEG Live, testified that he had his own meeting with an incoherent Jackson in the early stages of rehearsals.
“He was a little bit off. His speech was just very slightly slurred and he was a little slower than I’d known him to be,” Gongaware said of the meeting.
Gongaware said that Jackson had come from his doctor, but he couldn’t remember if Jackson had come from Murray or his dermatologist, Arnold Klein.
Gongaware hired Murray to be Jackson’s physician. He said Jackson had insisted that Murray be hired, despite Gongaware’s urging that an English physician be hired since the concerts would be taking place in London.
Gongaware recounted Jackson pointing to his own body and saying, “this is the machine, we have to take care of the machine. This is what I want, I want Doctor Murray.”
Murray originally asked for $5 million a year, Gongaware said.
“I told him there was no way that was going to happen,” he said. “Michael couldn’t afford it.”
Negotiations temporarily ended until Jackson told Gongaware to offer Murray $150,000 a month.
Murray originally refused that offer too until Gongaware told him that it was an offer directly from Jackson.
Prosecutors attempted to use Ortega and Gongaware’s testimony to paint Murray as a reckless, money-hungry doctor who was aware of the impact sedatives and the powerful anesthetic propofol were having on his patient.
They used the audio message of a drugged Jackson recorded on Murray’s phone May 10 to make the same point. Jackson’s voice is nearly unrecognizable as he stumbles and talks slowly about the impact he hopes his “This Is It” Tour will have on his reputation.
“We have to be phenomenal … when people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say I’ve never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I’ve never seen nothing like this. Go. It’s amazing. He’s the greatest entertainer in the world,” Jackson mumbles.
“I’m taking that money, a million children, children’s hospital, the biggest in the world. Michael Jackson’s Children’s Hospital,” Jackson says in the recording.
In addition, Walgren showed a photo of Jackson dancing at the Staples Center the night before he overdosed on propofol and put the picture side by side with a picture of Jackson lying lifeless in a hospital bed.
“What happened between that time and approximately 12 hours later when Michael Jackson is dead on June 25, 2009?” Walgren asked. “What you will learn through the evidence is that what happened during that time frame is that the acts and omissions of Michael Jackson’s personal doctor, Conrad Murray, directly led to his premature death at the age of 50.”
The packed courtroom included Jackson’s family and when the photo of Jackson’s corpse was shown, Latoya Jackson could be seen passing tissues to Janet Jackson.