Verdict Watch

slapped-screamedIt’s down to the wire now. Once again, a Michael Jackson trial has gone to the hands of a jury to deliberate. And once again, fans and those who care will sit on pins and needles, waiting for yet another outcome that in some way, whatever the results, will become a part of the Michael Jackson legacy.

scared-to-death

In the past, the American justice system has always been in Michael’s corner. And that is exactly why the public at large is usually more than a little surprised when these verdicts come back. Because a jury’s concern is not the slanted, skewered version of events that is reported in the media, but rather, the actual evidence that is weighed in a trial. Michael was put on trial when he lived. In death, he has been put on trial, not once, but twice in relation to his own death. This is unprecedented. But it has been necessary in getting to the truth. That’s a position I will continue to stand by, regardless of those who would like to have seen all of this simply swept under the rug in the name of keeping some superficial peace.

However, there has been a marked difference in the attitudes toward this trial, as opposed to, say, Michael’s molestation trial or the Conrad Murray trial in 2011. Both of those were criminal trials, with the dramatic possibility of a prison/jail sentence for the guilty party. In 2005, the possibility of a superstar going to prison kept the world riveted (regardless of whether we were fascinated for the right or wrong reasons). In 2011, the man directly responsible for his death was found guilty and sentenced. Those who loved Michael cheered; those who hated him could only feel the chagrin of defeat and take to social media to vent about “self responsibility” and all that other nonsense.

The AEG trial has dragged on for five months. That’s about two months longer than Michael’s criminal trial, and about two months longer than Conrad Murray’s manslaughter trial. And yet, outside of the fan community, interest in this trial has been rather tepid. Most people are not aware it is happening (at least no one that I talk to). The media has, as always, conveniently ignored the most revealing aspects of this trial, and when they have mentioned it at all, have only played up the usual aspects of it-Michael the Drug Addict; Michael the Doctor Shopper, etc. I was reading one such article just yesterday, which purported to highlight the “5 Key Moments From The Michael Jackson/AEG trial.” They mentioned the billion dollars at stake; they mentioned Prince and Debbie Rowe taking the stand; they mentioned propofol (as if we didn’t already know all about that!) and the tales of Michael’s declining health in his last weeks (but slanted as such to make it appear that this was all his own doing). Not surprisingly, there was no mention of Michael being slapped by Randy Phillips; no mention of the emails that called him a “freak,” no mention of a contract that locked him into 50 shows without his consent; no mention of Dr. Cziesler’s expert testimony on how Michael Jackson just may have been the first human being in history to be subjected to 60 days of REM-less sleep, among many other revelations that were ALL more earth shattering than any of those highlighted. Granted, there have been a few ripples here and there, and for awhile back during the spring, the prosecution was swinging heavily-conveniently, right about the time that the Wade Robson story suddenly broke. But overall, when I look at the coverage as a whole and the way the majority of the public have reacted to it, one consistent pattern emerges-the picture of a concert promoter just trying to get a show on, and being pitted against a difficult and troubled,drug addicted star already on a downward spiral-one whose “greedy” family is now looking for a windfall.

Sadly, no matter how we slice it, that is the paradigm that has been sold to a gullible public, and the public has bought it. If the jury comes back with the decision that AEG has lost, that, unfortunately, will not shift the paradigm. As always, we will have the vocal opponents and the know-it-all analysts simply shrugging their shoulders and saying the jury got it wrong. AEG, a multi-billion dollar corporation, will be portrayed as the victims. I know, because that bit of history has already been written, and the jury’s verdict will not change that.

But getting back to what is riding on this trial’s outcome, I think there is another reason why the response beyond the fan community has been as tepid as it has. This has been a civil trial, not a criminal one, and despite the billion dollar figure allegedly at stake, there simply isn’t as much invested in this trial’s outcome for those not directly involved. To be honest, most people outside the fan community-and Michael’s own circle of family and friends- are wearied with the subject of Michael Jackson’s death-what caused it, who is responsible, etc. It is a question that has dragged on, endlessly, for four years, and it is very likely we may never have all of those answers, no matter how many trials are held and how many lawsuits come to pass.  Obviously, his fans and family want those answers. But for most of the rest of the world, the subject of Michael Jackson’s death and who is responsible has become a wearisome subject.

And unlike the other trials, there is no clearcut  victim or “bad guy” in this case, at least none so far as what the public sees. Most could at least say, “I hope they throw the book at that there Dr. Murray cause he deserves it” and even longtime Jackson bashers such as Nancy Grace were jumping on that train. But when it comes to Michael Jackson vs. A Faceless Corporate Entity, the picture becomes (conveniently, I would say) a whole lot fuzzier. Outside of the fan community-those of us who have rigorously kept up with, and followed every detail of this case-it just seems like a case of a family unwilling to accept that their son/brother/father had “issues,” and unfairly looking for a third party-a rich one, at that-to make into a scapegoat.

I know that is not true, but then, when it comes to trying to explain the whole truth of this case to those who do not know anything about it, it is enough to give me a pounding migraine. Where to even begin? Unless someone is willing to take the time to read through dozens of blogs, to go through hours’ worth of court transcripts, to spend hours’ worth of scanning contracts  etc-or-as some fans have done, to even sit through these proceedings for months on end-all one can really say is, “I’m sorry if that’s the way you feel,” and move on.

But the truth is that this is a case with the potential to have far reaching repercussions in the entertainment industry. That is one reason why I think entertainers everywhere should be shuddering in their shoes at the prospect of this verdict. If AEG emerges from this case victorious, it means in effect that a concert promoter can agree to own you, body and soul, and can drive you to your death with no repercussions. But if they lose this case, there is also going to be a major ripple effect in the way future business dealings between artists and promoters will be handled. Could AEG, the second largest concert promoter in the business, go bankrupt as a result of this case? I don’t know. But it’s a lot of money at stake, and no doubt, these are people with a lot of power in the industry. I think it is very likely that if they lose this case, there may be some attempt to blackball the Michael Jackson brand. Maybe; maybe not. But I don’t put much past these people, and I certainly don’t trust them.

It would be a nice pipe dream to think that artists everywhere would stand together and band against greedy corporations who would take advantage of them. But the reality is that artists have to eat, too. And if AEG is paying their bills, I doubt they will be willing to rock that boat. When it comes down to choosing whose back to have and whose corner to be in, they will side where their bread is buttered.

In an ideal world, the good are vindicated, and the evil punished. But that ideal world doesn’t exist except in the realm of  wishful thinking.

How do I personally feel the verdict will go? Well, I may have to eat crow in a few days, when it comes down. But I believe AEG will be held liable. To what extent, that remains to be seen. I think there will be concessions made in the amount of money they are forced to pay Katherine Jackson and the kids, but in the end, that just comes down to a matter of breaking down the dollars and cents.

Which, sadly, is what Michael’s life has come down to, regardless of what the jury decides. We know this when we have both parties pointing the finger and calling the “greed” card. The Jacksons will point at AEG and say, “They killed him for money” and AEG will point at the Jacksons and say, “And all they want now, to compensate for his loss, is money.”

Michael got it right when he sang that it’s all bout the money.

Even if there is some justice for the family and a sense of closure (and that’s if the jury decides in their favor) that is not how it will be played out in the media.

But perhaps that doesn’t matter, and it shouldn’t. I sincerely believe, just as before, that truth and justice will prevail. I pray I will not be wrong in that belief.

So what are my own feelings now that it is all winding down? I have not followed the events of this trial in as much detail as some bloggers, but I said in the beginning that would be the case. I simply do not have the time to post those kinds of continuous updates, even though I admire and am greatly indebted to those who have. But I have tried to keep up with all of the major stories to come from it, and to reflect on those testimonies that have had the most impact. As a blogger whose stats rely on just how relevant Michael Jackson is in the news, there is a part of me that, inevitably, will miss that kind of day to day excitement. That is the journalist in me, and I hope it doesn’t offend too many if I am honest in that assessment. The traffic here is always highest when the public is discussing Michael Jackson, and that’s just the way it is.

But now the dust is going to settle, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. It will mean getting back to the basics of what truly matters-Michael’s art. And, of course, all of those topics that we will continue to debate indefinitely in search of the truth, or something approximating it.

I will just say this much in regard to the verdict watch, and what it means:

IF the jury comes back with the decision that AEG is not liable (effectively meaning that KJ has lost the case) I know I am going to feel a sense of anger that justice has not been served, and that AEG got away with what they did to Michael. I won’t be happy with that decision, but I will live with it if that’s what it comes down to.

However, I also do not believe I will be feeling especially celebratory even if the verdict comes back as the equivalent of “Guilty.” Yes, it will bring some sense of closure to what has been a very long, bitter, and drawn out chapter, going all the way back to when the coroner first officially ruled Michael Jackson’s death as a “homicide.” But the verdict will still leave just as many questions unanswered, and in the end, as I have discovered long ago, people are still going to believe what they want to believe about Michael Jackson, how he died, and why he died. Meanwhile, too many with blood on their hands will still walk scot free. Murray is due to be released on October 28th, after serving less than two years. Tohme Tohme, the man directly and illegally responsible for locking Michael into that contract from hell, once again slips through the cracks.

I wish that I could say, after enduring five long months of this trial, that all of this will be erased if/when the jury comes back with the right verdict. But I know it won’t.

V-Day will be a day of anticipation, and no doubt, some reflection, whatever the jury decides. I can’t say I won’t feel a ping of deep satisfaction if AEG loses. But I don’t suspect any of those feelings will be especially long lasting, because the cynic in me knows just how much impact this verdict is going to have, either way. In the long run, not much.

You may see above that I posted images of the emails sent by Randy Phillips to Tim Leiweke, which were included as part of Panish’s closing arguments. I am sure most of you probably know that when you right click an image to save it, that image is usually identified by a file name. It just so happened that when I saved this image, the file name that came up was this: “Scared To Death.”

And the file names that accompanied the other images were just as telling: “Slapped. Screamed. Scared.”

And that, in essence, sums up the gist of this trial and everything that Michael endured in his last weeks.

I can only keep faith that the “real” judge, who sees all and knows all without the need for attorneys, witnesses or juries, will be the one who has the final say. Until then, none of the rest of it matters.

Teammichael has posted the closing arguments on Youtube. As far as I can tell, this is the correct order. I am, of course, grateful to the members of Teammichael for all of their hard work and coverage during this trial. 

 UPDATE 10/05/2013: VERDICT IN! AEG NOT LIABLE (Well, not legally, anyway!):

I’m still having a bit of trouble getting my hands around this. Did I miss something, or wasn’t the whole crux of this trial supposed to hinge on the question of who hired Murray? The jury unanimously declared that AEG had hired Murray. Yet AEG is off the hook scot-free. The jury is now claiming a convenient legal loophole: That it was not a question of whether Murray was unethical, but a question of whether he was competent to perform the job he was hired to do. WT…?

Okay, I’m done. At least, until I can digest all of this a little more.

I know I said I would live with this decision, however it came down, but I’m left with a very bitter aftertaste. This verdict now means that the idea of Michael Jackson as being responsible for his own death is now cemented for many. Much of the crucial evidence that came to light regarding AEG’s treatment of Michael will be suppressed, while instead, all we will hear about is that Katherine didn’t get her expected windfall. That, to me, is tragic. I’ve never believed this case was solely about the money. However, it did bring to light a lot of ugly truths that, nevertheless, needed to be known. For that, I am at least grateful.

But the difference is that, had the jury ruled to hold AEG liable (even if only in part) I would have felt some sense of justice and closure. As it stands now, I cannot.

Michael’s untimely death remains what it has been from the start-a tragedy involving many culpable hands, who unfortunately will never have justice served upon them. At least, not in this life.

 

 

 

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