LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — It was an emotional day in court Wednesday in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial.
The judge called a recess after the late star’s creative partner, Kenny Ortega, broke down in tears on the witness stand during a negligence lawsuit filed by Jackson’s mother against AEG Live LLC, the promoter of his ill-fated comeback concert series dubbed This Is It.
Ortega, who was directing Jackson for the London residency, was asked to describe the way the singer looked six days before his death, referencing a photo taken on June 19, 2009.
“He wasn’t there. There was just something wrong,” Ortega said, recalling how the star had missed multiple rehearsals.
He said Jackson was shivering and seemed lost during one of their last run-throughs.
“I saw a Michael that frightened me,” Ortega said, calling Jackson’s appearance “very, very troubling”.
Ortega said he sent an e-mail to AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, alerting the executive to his concerns.
Ortega was asked to read that e-mail to the jury – the same memo he read back in 2011 during the criminal trial involving Jackson’s former physician, Conrad Murray.
“It would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug,” Ortega read, describing Jackson as a “lost boy”.
Court proceedings were briefly recessed when Ortega broke down while reading the passage.
When testimony resumed, Jackson family attorney Brian Panish asked Ortega if he would call Jackson’s condition a cry for help. Ortega said yes.
He testified that he tried to call Murray but could not get through.
The director said he was confronted by Murray during a meeting the following day inside Jackson’s Los Angeles mansion.
“He said I should stop trying to be an amateur doctor and psychologist and be a director, and leave Michael’s health to him,” Ortega recalled.
Ortega also said Murray assured him and AEG CEO Phillips that Jackson was capable of rehearsing.
Five days after that meeting, Jackson died.
Jurors hearing the case have heard about Jackson’s inability to rehearse from other witnesses, but Ortega was the highest-ranking tour worker to testify at the civil trial and had the most direct contact with AEG executives and Jackson.
Ortega said it was the only concert he had ever worked on where he had to coordinate a rehearsal schedule with a performer’s doctor and concert promoter.
Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, is suing AEG Live. She claims the company missed warning signs about her son’s health and failed to properly investigate Murray, who was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter after giving the singer an overdose of the anesthetic propofol.
AEG denies it hired Murray.
The company also says there was no way it could have known the doctor was giving Jackson propofol as a sleep aid.
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