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Michael Jackson death trial takes odd twist

CNN
Friday, September 6, 2013 - 3:00am

 The co-author of a study on propofol addiction funded by AEG Live and used in their defense in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial lost his medical license for writing illegal drug prescriptions, according to testimony.

Dr. Torin Finver was hired to help with the AEG Live study after he lost his job at a pizza parlor and took a job driving a Goodwill truck, said Dr. Paul Earley, who testified Wednesday as an expert witness for the concert promoter.

Finver was "destitute, dead broke, and I wanted to help him," Earley, himself a recovering heroin addict, testified.

The revelation was a bizarre twist in the trial of the billion-dollar lawsuit filed by Jackson's mother and three children, which is being heard by a Los Angeles jury. The four-month-long trial is nearing a conclusion.

AEG Live lawyers will announce if they have any more witnesses to call before playing the video depositions of three more doctors on Friday. Jackson lawyers would then take several days to call rebuttal witnesses before closing arguments are heard, which is likely to happened around September 23.

Earley testified that he never disclosed to AEG Live lawyers that his co-author had lost his medical license. Ironically, the company is being accused of the negligent hiring of Dr. Conrad Murray, convicted in Jackson's death because it allegedly failed to check Murray's background before hiring him.

Jackson lawyer Kevin Boyle also grilled Earley over his nondisclosure that he was working as a paid consultant in AEG Live's defense when he submitted the study for publication in a medical journal.

He said the concert promoter did not try to influence his findings, which were published in March in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

Jackson lawyers are hoping the controversy over Earley's work for AEG Live will distract jurors from his conclusion that Michael Jackson was a drug addict with a "grave prognosis" that would have shortened his life had he not died of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009.

Each dose of an anesthetic his doctor gave him to help him sleep was like playing "Russian roulette," Earley said.

Murray told investigators he gave Jackson infusions of propofol for 60 nights to treat his insomnia as the entertainer prepared for his comeback concerts.

Lawyers for the concert promoter hired Earley in their effort to downplay damages the company might have to pay if found liable in the pop icon's death. How much longer Jackson might have lived and earned money touring will be important if the jury decides AEG Live is liable for damages in Jackson's death. Jackson lawyers contend he would have earned more than $1.5 billion touring the world over the next several years.

Katherine Jackson and her three grandchildren sued Michael Jackson's last concert promoter, contending the company is liable in his death because it hired, retained or supervised the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

AEG Live lawyers contend it was Jackson, not the promoter, who chose and controlled Murray, and say AEG executives had no way of knowing about the dangerous treatments the doctor was giving Jackson in the privacy of his bedroom.

Earley: Jackson went 'doctor shopping'

Despite writing a blog six weeks after Jackson's death titled "Michael Jackson: Addiction in the Privileged," Earley testified Tuesday that there "was insufficient evidence that he was addicted to propofol."

"He was given propofol initially for appropriate medical procedures, but at some point, he began seeking out physicians who would administer propofol to him," Earley testified.

The last two instances of "doctor shopping" for propofol were late March and April of 2009, when Jackson asked an anesthesiologist to go on tour with him and then asked a nurse to help him find an anesthesiologist, he said.

Earley said there was no evidence Jackson's search for a doctor to give him propofol continued after AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware sent an e-mail to the singer's assistant on May 6, 2009, telling him Murray had agreed to take the job as his personal physician for the "This Is It" tour. "Done at $150k a month," Gongaware wrote.

"Sounds like he got it," Earley testified.

The Jackson family's lawyers contend that AEG Live executives ignored warning signs that Jackson's health began deteriorating after Murray began attending to him on a daily basis. Show workers sent e-mails describing a paranoid and frail Jackson who couldn't perform his standard dances or remember words to songs he had sung for decades.

A Harvard Medical School sleep expert, testifying in June for the Jacksons, concluded that the 60 nights of propofol infusions apparently robbed Jackson of rapid eye movement sleep, which is vital to keep the brain and body alive.

"The symptoms that Mr. Jackson was exhibiting were consistent with what someone might expect to see of someone suffering from total sleep deprivation over a chronic period," Dr. Charles Czeisler testified.

Expert's conflict?

Soon after AEG Live's lawyers hired Earley as a consultant on propofol addiction in 2011, they agreed to fund his scientific research, which resulted in his paper titled "Addiction to Propofol: A Study of 22 Treatment Cases." The American Society of Addiction Medicine published the study in March.

Earley insisted in his testimony that AEG Live's funding did not influence the conclusions of his study or his testimony in the trial. But the Jackson lawyer hammered the doctor about the lack of disclosure to the scientific journal and his collaborator that he was being paid to be an expert witness in the trial.

He informed them that he was doing research for the company, but the trial aspect was "irrelevant," Earley said.

"It's irrelevant to health care professionals," he said. "It wouldn't affect their understanding of the paper."
 

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