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Michael Jackson death: Choreographer Ortega to be first witness

September 26, 2011 | 12:50 pm

Michael Jackson and Kenny Ortega

Famed choreographer Kenny Ortega will be the first witness to take the stand at the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor, a prosecutor said Monday.

Ortega, famed for “Dirty Dancing” and “High School Musical,” was the co-creator and co-director of the “This Is It” comeback concerts Jackson was preparing for at the time of his death. In a hearing earlier this year Ortega said the singer’s personal physician, Conrad Murray, assured him that Jackson was healthy enough to perform and even scolded him for canceling rehearsals when Jackson seemed weak.

“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," Ortega said.

Prosecutors contend that at the time Murray brushed off Ortega and other concert executives, he was giving Jackson nightly doses of the surgical anesthetic on which the singer later overdosed. In comments to a judge Monday, Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren said he planned to summon witnesses in a chronological order leading up to and then following Jackson’s death.

Full coverage: Trial of Conrad Murray

Ortega is to be followed to the stand by Paul Gongaware, who worked for Jackson’s concert promoter, AEG Live. Gongaware, according to another prosecutor, will also testify about conversations with Murray and Jackson.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Deborah Brazil said Gongaware would testify about a meeting in which he and other AEG officials “were sharing their concerns with the defendant concerning Mr. Jackson’s health.”

Murray, 58, stands accused of involuntary manslaughter. His trial begins with opening statements Tuesday and is expected to last about five weeks.


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-- Harriet Ryan

Photo: Michael Jackson and Kenny Ortega in 2009. Credit: John Shearer