LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The head choreographer for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour testified Tuesday that he did not have any doubt about Jackson’s ability to perform in the days before his death, but that the singer was not in great shape and at one point appeared to be on drugs.
Travis Payne was called by the defense in the wrongful death case against tour promoter AEG. Katherine Jackson has sued AEG for negligently hiring Dr. Conrad Murray, who remains jailed for involuntary manslaughter. AEG denies the allegations.
Payne was asked about Jackson’s physical condition at the last two rehearsals for the tour, held several days before his death.
“I thought he was on his way to the goals he had set for himself,” said Payne.
Asked if Payne had any doubt about Jackson’s ability to perform as of those nights, Payne said no.
Veteran trial attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan told CBS2’s Randy Paige that AEG is trying to convince the jury that if the choreographer working with Jackson thought he was fit enough to perform, AEG could not be expected to know otherwise.
But under cross-examination, Payne testified that Jackson was not in great physical shape in the days leading up to his death, and at one point looked “assisted” by some type of drug.
The testimony comes one day after choreographer Stacy Walker testified that Jackson appeared healthy in the final rehearsals leading up to his death in 2009.
KNX 1070’s Margaret Carrero reports that Payne told the court that AEG was responsible for hiring him and would have been the one to terminate his job, if warranted.
Payne also testified that the singer introduced Dr. Conrad Murray to him as his personal doctor during a visit to Jackson’s home.
Payne said he did not know that AEG executives traded emails about removing rehearsal footage from the “This Is It” movie because Jackson looked way too thin and skeletal.
When asked if he was upset about Jackson’s death, Payne said “yes.” The jury was then shown photographs of Payne smiling and posing for cameras at the “This Is It” movie premier, which the choreographer helped produce.
Panish asked if he was still upset about Jackson’s death then, to which Payne answered, “Yes, of course.”
Payne shot back in court when Panish began hammering him about AEG CEO Randy Phillips appearing at rehearsals to protect their investment, saying that Mrs. Jackson’s attorney was making it sound like a bad thing.
“I don’t have a dog in this race, so I don’t want to be painted as a guy who’s trying to mask anything,” said Payne.
“We’ll get to that,” said Panish in response.
Though the Jackson family’s attorneys are still presenting their case, Payne was permitted to testify Tuesday because he is leaving the country and won’t be available when the defense presents its side.