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AEG exec called Michael Jackson 'freak' before signing concert contract

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 5:48 PM EDT, Thu May 23, 2013
The death in 2009 of superstar Michael Jackson, who died of cardiac arrest at the age of 50, sent shockwaves around the world. The death in 2009 of superstar Michael Jackson, who died of cardiac arrest at the age of 50, sent shockwaves around the world.
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Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Photos: Michael Jackson, King of Pop
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Katherine Jackson leaves court weeping Thursday
  • AEG Live lawyer tells boss idea of meeting Jackson is "kind of creepy"
  • Jackson's mother and children claim the concert promoter is liable in his death
  • AEG Live contends Jackson, not it, chose the doctor convicted in his death

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A top AEG executive referred to Michael Jackson as "the freak" and another called him "creepy" just hours before their company signed the pop icon to a huge concert deal.

The revelation brought an audible gasp in the Los Angeles courtroom at the wrongful death trial Wednesday and left fans crying.

Jackson's mother and children are suing AEG Live for what they say was the negligent hiring, retention or supervision of Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the singer's death.

Katherine Jackson watched from the front row as her lawyer questioned AEG Live Senior Vice President and General Counsel Shawn Trell about an e-mail exchange with his boss at parent company AEG.

The Jackson family matriarch began weeping when Trell returned to the witness stand Thursday morning. She left the courtroom and did not return.

Sweet controversy at death trial

"Is it the policy of AEG to talk in derogatory terms about the artist you're going to do business with?" Jackson lawyer Brian Panish asked.

Katherine Jackson: Michael's mother, 82, was deposed for nine hours over three days by AEG Live lawyers. As the guardian of her son's three children, she is a plaintiff in the wrongful death lawsuit against the company that promoted Michael Jackson's comeback concerts. Katherine Jackson: Michael's mother, 82, was deposed for nine hours over three days by AEG Live lawyers. As the guardian of her son's three children, she is a plaintiff in the wrongful death lawsuit against the company that promoted Michael Jackson's comeback concerts.
Key players in Jackson wrongful death trial
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Who\'s who in Jackson trial Who's who in Jackson trial
Click through to see people who passed away in 2013. Click through to see people who passed away in 2013.
People we lost in 2013
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Photos: People we lost in 2013 Photos: People we lost in 2013
Van Halen on Michael Jackson: Sweet guy
Jackson wrongful death trial under way

"No," Trell answered.

Panish then showed jurors an e-mail Trell sent on January 28, 2009, to Ted Fikre, AEG's chief legal officer, letting him know he was about to go to Jackson's home for the signing of the contract for his "This Is It" concert tour.

"Does that mean you get to meet the freak?" Fikre replied.

Trell responded: "Apparently. Not sure how I feel about that. Interesting for sure, but kind of creepy."

The e-mail exchange happened less than four hours before Trell and other AEG executives visited Jackson's Los Angeles home.

AEG execs face questions about Jackson's death

"This is a man you hoped to make millions and millions of dollars from?" Panish asked Trell. "Didn't your mom ever say if you don't have anything good to to say about someone, don't say anything?"

Trell earlier testified that he was excited to meet Jackson for the first time and was impressed with his "good, firm handshake."

"I may not have necessarily agreed with some of the life choices Michael Jackson made, but I certainly had enormous respect for him as an entertainer."

Manager's e-mails found, could be key

A dry review

Most of Wednesday's session was a dry review of Jackson and Murray's contracts as AEG Live's defense team worked to convince jurors that Murray was not hired by the concert promoter. Jackson chose, hired and supervised the doctor, they contend.

Murray signed his contract the day before Jackson's June 25, 2009, death, but AEG executives and Jackson never put their signatures on it. Jackson lawyers, however, argue he had been already working for two months based on an oral contract.

The Jackson lawsuit contends that AEG Live executives ignored red flags that should have warned them that Jackson was in danger from Murray's treatment.

The coroner ruled that Jackson died from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Murray told police he was using to treat the singer's insomnia.

Panish -- the Jackson family's lead lawyer -- questioned Trell Thursday about his previous testimony that there were no "red flags" to alert AEG executives about Jackson's declining health.

He showed jurors an e-mail sent to AEG Live President Randy Phillips and Co-CEO Paul Gongaware by "This Is It" stage manager John "Bugzee" Houghdahl on June 19, 2009 -- six days before Jackson died.

"I have watched him deteriorate in front of my eyes over the last 8 weeks," Houghdahl wrote. "He was able to do multiple 360 spins back in April. He'd fall on his ass if he tried now."

Another Prince

The name of Prince Rogers Nelson -- the artist commonly known as Prince -- came up when Trell acknowledged that while AEG Live had promoted about 100 tours, it had produced only one other concert tour the size of Jackson's shows.

When Panish suggested Prince had not had "a very favorable experience" with AEG, Trell said he'd not spoken to him about it.

Panish: "Did you ever try to get a doctor for $150,000 a month for Prince?"

Trell: "No."

Panish: "And is Mr. Nelson is still alive today?"

Trell: "Yes."

Witness: 'Everybody was lying' after Jackson died

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