Nearly five years after Michael Jackson's death, a [article id="1657214"]wrongful death lawsuit[/article] filed by the pop icon's mother and children is slated to go to trial next month.
Jackson's family released a statement on Monday saying they were looking forward to their day in court, especially after a judge unsealed the documents in the suit this week that included a "smoking gun" email from Jackson's tour promoter to Dr. Conrad Murray, the personal physician hired to keep an eye on the singer. The email reportedly suggests that the promoter of Jackson's attempted "This Is It" comeback tour was concerned about the star's health.
According to CNN, the emails indicate that AEG Live was worried about Jackson missing rehearsals and encouraged Murray — who is serving a four-year prison term for [article id="1690874"]involuntary manslaughter[/article] in Jackson's death — to get MJ in shape to play the gigs.
One of the keys to the Jackson family's case is an email AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware wrote 11 days before Jackson's June 25, 2009 death in which he expressed concern that show director Kenny Ortega had held Jackson back from rehearsal the day before.
"We want to remind (Murray) that it is AEG, not MJ, who is paying his salary. We want to remind him what is expected of him," read the email, which Jackson's lawyer argues is evidence that AEG Live played on Murray's fear of losing his $150,000-a-month gig as Jackson's personal physician to push the fragile singer to get ready for rehearsals.
Ortega, who had years of experience working with Jackson, sent a concerned warning to AEG Live President Randy Phillips after the star arrived at rehearsals shivering just a week before his death. "It is like there are two people there," Ortega wrote. "One (deep inside) trying to hold on to what he was and still can be and not wanting us to quit him, the other in this weakened and troubled state. I believe we need professional guidance in this matter."
In the suit, Jackson's mother, Katherine, and his children, Prince, Paris and Prince Michael II claim that AEG Live pressured Murray to have Michael ready for daily rehearsals despite health issues, which led to his death from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol.
In agreeing to let the suit go forward, the judge in the case said that Jackson family lawyers provided enough evidence that AEG Live hired and supervised Murray and that the company's executives could have foreseen that the cardiologist, who was deeply in debt, would use dangerous drugs in treating Michael to warrant a jury trial.
In addition to an email in which Phillips wrote a flattering endorsement of Murray's qualifications for the gig, referring to the doctor as "totally unbiased and ethical," Jackson's lawyers provided another message in which they say Phillips appeared to be directly involved in pressuring Murray to get Jackson to rehearsals.
"Randy Phillips and Dr. Murray are responsible for MJ rehearsal and attendance schedule," read the email from AEG Live tour accountant Timm Woolley to an insurance broker two days before Jackson died.
Following Jackson's death, Murray told investigators that he used propofol every night for two months to help MJ sleep, per the singer's demands. AEG Live has argued that it is not liable in Jackson's death because Murray was not its employee.
The suit is seeking a judgment against AEG Live equal to the payday Jackson would have earned over the course of his life had he not died in 2009. If the company is found liable, it could cost them several billion dollars.