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Michael Jackson wrongful death trial opens: Were tour organizers to blame?

Michael Jackson died in part because the organizers of his 'This Is It' tour were irresponsible taskmasters, the family alleges in its wrongful death suit. But that might be hard to prove.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / April 29, 2013

Katherine Jackson (l.), mother of late pop star Michael Jackson, and her daughter Rebbie Jackson are pictured in a courtroom sketch at Katherine Jackson's civil suit against concert promoter AEG Live in Los Angeles Monday.

Bill Robles/Reuters

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Los Angeles

The Michael Jackson wrongful death trial – which has begun with opening arguments Monday in a small Los Angeles courtroom – pits the family of one of the world’s richest and most beloved pop stars against one of the world’s largest entertainment companies.

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Because of the nature of the case, it could bring out more detail than the previous trial connected to Mr. Jackson's death, in which Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He is currently serving a four-year sentence. Moreover, the trial could be more broad-ranging in touching on how Jackson reacted to child-molestation charges against him, his drug use, and his finances.

Unlike Dr. Murray's trial, however, which was broadcast live in the United States, the civil case will play out without cameras in a courtroom with only 45 public seats.

The trial could last months and promises a long list of celebrities including Diana Ross, Quincy Jones, Spike Lee, and Prince. Both of Jackson's ex-wives, Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, are also listed as potential witnesses.

The case will center on the Jacksons' claim that AEG Live played a role in Jackson's 2009 death by irresponsibly pushing him and Murray to make sure the singer would be ready for his 50-show "This Is It" tour, which was scheduled to begin in London later that year.

A key part of the case, in which Jackson's mother, Katherine, is the plaintiff, is an e-mail from AEG Live co-chief executive officer Paul Gongaware written 11 days before Jackson's death. It is addressed to show director Kenny Ortega and expresses concern that Murray had kept Jackson from a rehearsal the day before, according to a CNN report. "We want to remind (Murray) that it is AEG, not MJ, who is paying his salary. We want to remind him what is expected of him."

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