After dramatic opening statements from prosecutors and the defense, the manslaughter trial of former Michael Jackson doctor Conrad Murray began Tuesday with gripping testimony from Jackson’s friend and former choreographer, “This is It” documentary director Kenny Ortega.
“My friend wasn’t right. … There was something going on that was deeply troubling me,” Ortega said of Jackson’s demeanor on June 19, a week before the singer’s death . Ortega testified that although Jackson was “very excited” about his upcoming 50-date “This is It” series of comeback shows at London’s O2 Arena, the pop icon seemed ill in the days before his passing, missing numerous rehearsals from mid- to late June 2009.
According to TMZ, Ortega said Jackson left rehearsals early on the 19th, after seemingly not eating anything all day, which prompted the director to send an email to Randy Phillips, the CEO of AEG Live, the show’s promoter. “There is no one taking responsibility, caring for him on a daily basis,” Ortega wrote. “I was feeding him, wrapping him in blankets … and calling his doctor.”
Ortega described Jackson as “incoherent” and said he confronted Murray during an emergency meeting at the singer’s home June 20, during which the doctor became upset that the choreographer would not let Jackson rehearse and accused him of trying to act like a doctor. Ortega also said he thought Jackson was abusing drugs and that just four days after appearing so sick, the “Thriller” singer was back at rehearsals June 23 full of energy and ready to work.
AEG co-CEO Paul Gongaware later testified that it was Jackson’s idea to extend his string of 10 sold-out shows with an additional 21 gigs to bring the total to 31 in order to beat longtime rival Prince’s record of 21 sold-out gigs at the O2. He also said that even after selling out all 50 shows, there was a list of 250,000 people waiting for tickets.
And while Gongaware described Jackson as seeming a little “off” and speaking in slurred speech when he first met him in the early stages of rehearsal, longtime friend and fitness trainer Lou Ferrigno said he saw no signs of physical distress during workouts a couple weeks before the singer died.
The former “Hulk” star said that two weeks before Jackson’s passing, he watched as the pop icon trained for an hour at his rented Beverly Hills mansion, doing cardio on a treadmill, working with light weights and doing core exercises. Ferrigno described Jackson’s energy level as very good, but did note that his friend complained of having trouble sleeping.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors showed a previously unseen, graphic image of the 50-year-old Jackson’s body on a hospital gurney and claimed in opening statements that they planned to show that Murray repeatedly acted with gross negligence and incompetence in administering a drug cocktail to Jackson.
Murray, who was working on a $150,000-a-month retainer, faces four years in prison and the loss of his medical license if found guilty.
Defense attorney Ed Chernoff countered by telling the jury that Jackson caused his own death by swallowing eight 2-milligram pills of the anti-anxiety drug Lorazepam, as well as injecting himself with a dose of the surgical anesthetic propofol that instantly killed him. Testimony in the trial continues Wednesday (September 28).