Michael’s mom questioned in Jackson death trial
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Michael Jackson’s mother faces more questioning Monday from a lawyer for the concert promoter she’s suing in her son’s death.
Katherine Jackson became “confused and tired” when AEG Live lawyer Marvin Putnam asked her “some pretty complex questions very fast” during his cross examination Friday, her attorney said.
“She was trying to answer the questions the best she could,” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish said. “I think maybe she lost her temper a little bit and she tried to restrain herself in a very Christian-like way.”
The judge adjourned court two hours early Friday when Jackson told her she needed to rest, but she resumes her testimony in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday morning.
She is the lead plaintiff — along with Michael Jackson’s three children — in a wrongful death lawsuit against AEG Live. The suit contends the agency is liable in his death because it hired, retained or supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, who is serving a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter in the pop icon’s death.
AEG Live lawyers, who will begin presenting their defense once Katherine Jackson’s testimony ends, promised in opening statements 12 weeks ago to show the jury “ugly stuff” to prove that Michael Jackson was responsible for his own death.
Jackson testified that she filed the lawsuit “because I want to know what really happened to my son.”
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, from an overdose of a surgical anesthetic administered by Murray, just two weeks before his “This It It” concerts were set to premiere at AEG’s O2 Arena in London.
His mother testified that she believed her son could have completed the 50 scheduled shows concerts “if they had been spaced out.”
She called AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips because she was worried that the schedule didn’t give him enough rest between shows.
“I told him Michael can’t do those shows, you have to change the schedule,” she said. “If they spaced them out, he could have done a million shows.”
Last week, jurors appeared to pay close attention, leaning forward and often smiling, as the matriarch of one of the world’s most famous entertainment families recounted how she and her husband raised nine children in a tiny Gary, Indiana, home. They saw rare home videos of the Jacksons and heard songs Michael wrote for his children.
“I want the jurors to just recognize that there’s people involved in this case,” Panish said, explaining the significance of the mother’s testimony. “We’ve seen a lot of testimony about numbers and e-mails, but there are people behind it all.”
The testimony perhaps more intimate and revealing that a Barbara Walters television special. As with a Walters interview, there were tears.
Katherine Jackson’s family moved to East Chicago, Illinois, just three years after she was born in rural Barbour County, Alabama, in 1930, she said. She wore a brace on her left leg as a child because she suffered from polio.
Musical talent ran in her family, including a great-grandfather known as “a very good singer.” She played the clarinet in the high school band.
She was 19 when she married Joe Jackson, a 21-year-old steel mill worker. The couple bought a four-room house, about the size of a garage, that was coincidentally located on Jackson Street in Gary, she said.
The two oldest girls slept on a couch in the living room, while the boys slept on bunk beds in one of the two bedrooms, she said. The closeness may have contributed to their music careers. “I would wake up to the boys harmonizing and singing,” Jackson said.
The growing family lived “payday to payday,” stretching the money by dressing the children in homemade clothes, getting shoes from the Salvation Army, watching newspaper ads for sales and driving into the country to pick vegetables, she said.
“I knew how to cook a potato in every way,” Jackson joked, when asked if she was a good cook.
Jackson took a sales clerk job at the Sears Roebuck store in Gary just before her youngest child, Janet, came along, she said.
Young Michael was “a sweet little boy,” she said, always “sensitive and loving.” His mother recounted how 3-year-old Michael held Randy’s hand and cried because his younger brother was sick.
His mother saw early signs of her son’s talent. He would kick while in her arms when he heard music, she said. “When he started to walk, he was dancing.”
Michael’s earliest dancing was to the rhythm of a rusty old washing machine. “He was down there dancing while sucking the bottle to the squeaking of the washer,” she said.
He would “save his pennies and nickels” to buy candy, which he used to set up a store. “He liked to play ‘store man,’ ” she testified.
While the family had an old television set, it would often break down, she said. Her children first started singing for entertainment when there was no money to pay the TV repairman.
The brothers took their singing beyond the home by entering school talent shows. “It had got so that they won all the contests,” she said. “They would see the Jacksons coming and say ‘Oh, my God, they’re going to win again.'”
Their mother initially named their group “The Jackson Brothers 5,” but a woman who was composing an ad for an appearance shortened it to “The Jackson 5,” she said.
Michael’s first public performance came when he sang “Climb Every Mountain” in a school program when he was just 5, she said.
“He started singing the song, and he sang it with such clarity, not flat or anything. I sat there and cried. He got a standing ovation.”
Although Jermaine was initially the lead singer, Michael got the job after his mother forced her husband to listen to him sing, she said.
Singing gigs started to pay after Motown artists Gladys Knight & the Pips and The Temptations began hiring them as opening acts whenever they were performing near Gary, she said. Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. signed the Jackson 5 to a contract, and their first four singles became No. 1 hits, she said.
The family moved to Los Angeles just as “Jackson mania” was breaking out, she said. “There were so many girls around he house I got so tired of it,” she said.
Jurors saw a clip of 14-year-old Michael singing “Ben” at the Oscar Awards in 1973. “He liked that song because he liked the rats,” his mother said.
She then told a story about discovering her son had a mouse in his pocket during dinner at a Beverly Hills restaurant. “I was very upset with him.”
‘Everything went dark’
Jackson described when she learned her son had died at the emergency room at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center.
“Everything went dark and I just started screaming,” she said.
Then the children — Prince, Paris and Blanket — were told.
“Paris was screaming, looking up at the sky saying ‘Daddy, I want to go with you, I can’t live without you,’ ” she testified. “Paris looked at me and asked ‘Grandma, where are we going?’ I told her ‘You’re going home with grandma.’ ”
Paris has had “the hardest time” since her father’s death, she said.
“One of my grandchildren told me that she would tell them that she wants to go where her daddy was,” she said.
Now 15, Paris has been in a psychiatric facility for treatment since a suicide attempt on June 5.
Jackson lawyers punctuated their presentation with a montage of home videos of Michael Jackson with his children, using a recording of his song “Speechless.” Jackson said her son wrote the song about a father’s love for his children — and the lack of words to express it — in just 45 minutes.
“Mrs. Jackson, do you miss your son?” Panish asked her as he concluded his direct questioning
“Words can’t explain,” she replied.
Cross examination by AEG team
Putnam’s questioning of Katherine Jackson began when he inquired whether it was her personal decision — or someone else’s — to file the wrongful death lawsuit.
It was hers alone, she said. She did not discuss it with her husband or grandchildren.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories,” she said. The trial may bring her answers, she hoped.
“I want to know the truth, what happened to him,” she said.
Jackson appeared upset, complaining about the suggestions by an AEG Live lawyer last week that her son was broke when he died.
“Because he gave it to charity,” she said. “It hurts to sit here and listen to all those things.”
She complained to Putnam that AEG Live executives did not call “an outside doctor” to help her son after show director Kenny Ortega told them he needed urgent help in his last days.
“My son needed another doctor, not Dr. Murray,” she said.
Jackson then recalled an e-mail written by a top AEG executive referring to Michael Jackson as “the freak” just hours before their company signed the pop icon to a huge concert deal.
“They called him a freak,” she said. “They were making fun of him — ‘Finally get a chance to meet the freak.’ ”
“My son is dead,” she said. “He’s not here to talk for himself.”
Dr. Conrad Murray testimony?
The doctor who was convicted in Jacksons death is “following the trial closely” from the jail where he is serving a four-year sentence, his lawyer, Valerie Wass, said Friday. She was in the courtroom to hear Jackson’s testimony.
She surprised reporters afterward by hinting that Murray may be willing to testify in the trial, despite earlier signing a statement saying he would not since his appeal is still pending.
“It’s been his intention all along to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege, but it’s something we’re re-evaluating on a daily basis, and it’s possible he might want to testify,” Wass said. He might “be willing to testify about certain aspects of the case.”
AEG Live’s defense team told the judge last week they have no intention of calling the doctor as a witness. Jackson’s lead lawyer said Friday he’s not “sure Conrad Murray is going to add much.”
“I don’t see how he could be incriminated by telling the truth at this point,” Wass said. “We’re considering it. We’re both discussing the issue.”