Michael Jackson judgment day nears as final arguments begin

Final arguments in the nearly five-month Michael Jackson wrongful death trial began Tuesday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom where jurors will be asked to decide whether one of the country’s most powerful entertainment firms is responsible for the pop star’s drug overdose death.

Attorneys for Jackson’s mother and three children were trying to convince jurors that concert producer and promoter AEG Live pushed Jackson to pull off a comeback tour even as his mental and physical health were deteriorating and hired the Las Vegas doctor who gave the singer a fatal dose of a powerful anesthetic as he rehearsed for the doomed “This Is It” tour.

AEG Live’s attorneys claim it was Jackson who brought Dr. Conrad Murray aboard as his personal physician. Murray, now serving jail time after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter, refused to testify in the wrongful death trial.

WATCH LIVE: Closing arguments in AEG-Jackson trial

AEG negotiated Murray’s $150,000-a-month deal, but neither Jackson nor his representatives saw a draft of the contract. Murray signed the contract the day before Jackson died in June 2009, but his is the only signature on the contract.

The entertainment firm contends the money that was to be used for Murray’s monthly salary was actually part of an advance to Jackson.

Lawyers for AEG Live will present closing arguments Wednesday, and the case should be in the juror’s hands by week’s end.

PHOTOS: Michael Jackson | 1958-2009

At times, the long-running trial has veered toward the sensational, with testimony about Jackson’s drug use, his rapid weight loss and his inability to pull off his signature dance moves in rehearsals.

Though the case does not seek a specific sum, the financial stakes could be enormous. A witness for Jackson’s family testified that the pop star could have made $1 billion or more if he had lived to perform in the planned concerts in London and then gone on a worldwide tour.

Unlike a criminal case, the jury does not have to reach its decision beyond a reasonable doubt, “only that it is more likely to be true than not true,” Judge Yvette Palazuelos told jurors. Also unlike a criminal trial, the verdict does not have to be unanimous; a vote of only nine of the 12 jurors is needed.

AEG attorney Marvin Putnam said the Jacksons have no proof to back up their case.

“This has never been anything other than a shakedown,” he said.

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com