Jury in wrongful-death trial was confused, Jackson attorneys say

A Los Angeles judge heard arguments Friday over her tentative ruling this week denying Katherine Jackson's request for a new trial against entertainment giant AEG Live in the death of her son, Michael Jackson.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos took the case under submission following the morning hearing, which came three months after jurors decided AEG was not responsible for Jackson's death.


Palazuelos issued her tentative 44-page ruling Thursday. When the judge makes her final decision, the parties will have 30 days to file an appeal.

In their civil case, Katherine Jackson and her grandchildren claimed AEG negligently hired and controlled Conrad Murray, the doctor convicted of giving the pop superstar a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in 2009. Jurors agreed that AEG Live hired Murray, but they rejected the second question on the verdict form that asked whether Murray was unfit or incompetent, ending deliberations.

The jurors had to answer yes to five questions on the form to find AEG liable in Jackson's death.

The Jackson family filed a motion seeking a new suit last month, after four of the jurors gave sworn statements saying they found the verdict form confusing.

"I believed that Mrs. Jackson had proven her case against AEG Live. Despite this fact, I had no way of voting in favor of the plaintiffs because of the way the verdict form was worded," one juror said in a declaration filed with the motion.

Attorneys representing the Jacksons focused much of their arguments Friday on that verdict form, saying it limited jurors from fully considering the evidence at hand. Rather, they said, the second question only allowed jurors to focus on Murray's competence and expectations when he was hired — not whether they changed after the fact.

Attorney Deborah Chang called it a "major, major problem" that "cut us off at the knees."

AEG's attorney Jessica Stebbins Bina kept her arguments brief, saying there was no need for a new trial. It was the Jackson team, she argued, who including the language of the disputed question in drafts of the verdict form and jury instructions.

Chang said there was no way to improve the question, arguing it should have been ignored because the case overall was "too complicated and too strange" for the verdict form used.

Both sides — along with the judge — acknowledged the difficulty of the trial, which stretched nearly six months. They made multiple references to the often-heated back-and-forth, with Chang calling the case a "fight to the bitter, bitter end."

"There will never be another case like this again," Chang said. "Maybe part of the reason why is there will never be someone like Michael Jackson and Dr. Murray, and the whole situation with AEG Live."

Times staff writer Jeff Gottlieb contributed to this report.