Choreographer Kenny Ortega: Michael Jackson too weak to perform days before death [Updated]
The first witness to testify in Tuesday’s preliminary hearing for Michael Jackson's physician described a run-in with Dr. Conrad Murray six days before the pop star's death on June 25, 2009.
Renowned choreographer Kenny Ortega was the first to take the stand and said the singer showed up at a rehearsal at Staples Center seeming “lost” and too weak to perform.
“It was scary. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew there was something going on,” Ortega recalled.
The next day, he said, he was summoned to a meeting at Jackson’s mansion with the singer, his manager, the concert promoter and Murray.
He said the doctor insisted Jackson was emotionally and physically strong enough to perform and scolded Ortega for sending Jackson home -- something he said he hadn’t done.
“Dr. Murray told me that this was not my responsibility and asked me to not act like a doctor or psychologist ... and leave Michael’s health to him,” he said.
But in two rehearsals preceding Jackson’s death, the singer appeared to have turned a corner.
“It was like the Michael we all knew and loved,” he said.
The judge also heard from Jackson’s personal assistant, the first person Murray called after discovering Jackson had stopped breathing.
Michael Amir Williams said Murray left a “frantic” message saying Jackson “had a bad reaction” and urging him to come to the house. At the hospital, Murray went with Williams and Jackson’s manager to inform the singer’s children their father was dead.
His voice faltered as he recalled how the children, still thinking their father was alive, began listing his allergies for the doctors.
“It was horrible,” he said.
Shortly thereafter, Murray took him aside with a strange request, Williams said in his testimony.
“He said, ‘Brother Michael, Mr. Jackson has some cream in the house that I knew he wouldn’t want the world to know about,’” Williams said. “It was an odd question, to ask to go to the house to get the cream.”
The doctor asked for a ride back to the mansion, but Williams said he and other security guards demurred.
Subsequently, Murray said he was going to get something to eat and left the hospital. In his cross-examination, Murray’s attorney, Ed Chernoff, questioned Williams about his connection to the Nation of Islam and about other phone calls he made in the minutes after Murray’s call.
He also asked the personal assistant how frequently he went upstairs to Jackson’s bedroom, and whether his fingerprints may be found on vials, intravenous bags or syringes.
“I don’t know how that’s possible, I never touched any of that,” Williams said.
[For the record at 3:19 p.m.: A typo was fixed in the first sentence of a previous version of this post, changing the word "witnesses" to "witness." The previous version also failed to note that Ortega is the director-producer of the movie "This Is It."]
[Updated at 3:31 p.m.: "This Is It" is a film made from rehearsal footage for Jackson's planned London concert series.]
-- Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim in L.A. County Superior Court