LOS ANGELES — Michael Jackson was on the brink of financial ruin when he agreed to do his “This is It” concert tour, and his fear of failure spurred by severe insomnia drove him to take desperate measures that killed him, a lawyer for his doctor said Wednesday,
The statements by defense attorney Edward Chernoff during a pretrial hearing brought a new twist to the case being built by lawyers for Dr. Conrad Murray, who is charged in the death of Jackson.
Defense lawyers previously suggested the pop star might have self-administered an overdose of the anesthetic propofol while Murray was away from his side.
While seeking access to Jackson’s financial records, Chernoff added Wednesday that Jackson was in anguish over his financial situation and faced ruin if he failed to perform during the upcoming tour.
“The crux of the defense is going to be that Michael Jackson engaged in a desperate act and took desperate measures that caused his death,” Chernoff told Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor. “We believe at the time Michael Jackson died he was a desperate man in relation to his financial affairs.”
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Chernoff said Jackson had leveraged his main asset, the music catalog that includes the work of the Beatles, and that even if he completed the tour, he would remain in financial distress.
Attorney Howard Weitzman, who represents the estate of Jackson, disagreed.
“Is the theory that Michael Jackson committed suicide, took his own life?” Weitzman asked. “I don’t think that’s a salable theory.”
Defense lawyers have never used the word suicide and implied Jackson’s death was accidental but self-inflicted. At a preliminary hearing for Murray. Jackson was quoted by a witness as saying if he didn’t sleep he would have to cancel the tour.
Weitzman said the tour would have put Jackson in a different position and allowed him to refinance loans and take other key financial steps.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren accused Chernoff of trying to distract from the main issue of the trial – whether Murray acted with gross negligence when he gave Jackson propofol and other sedatives on the day he died.
“This is an irrelevant sideshow designed to take issues away from the jury and smear Michael Jackson,” Walgren said. “It has nothing to do with the case on which Dr. Murray is being prosecuted. ”
Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Chernoff’s attempt to see Jackson’s financial records was blocked by Judge Pastor, who said he would not allow such a “deep sea fishing” expedition.
“I’m not going to turn an involuntary manslaughter trial into some kind of an escapade in analysis of the finances in Michael Jackson’s entire life,” Pastor said.
However, Pastor did order Weitzman to confer with defense counsel on financial records that are already available in the public record.
In another ruling, the judge ordered a lawyer for Dr. Arnold Klein, Jackson’s dermatologist, to turn over medical records. But the judge ordered that the documents be kept secret by anyone who sees them.
The defense seeks to prove that Klein gave Jackson the anesthetic Demerol in the weeks before his death and that he became addicted to it..
Lawyers were ordered to return Thursday to continue screening prospective jurors through written questionnaires. Jury selection is scheduled to move into open court on May 4. Opening statements are expected on May 9.