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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Amanda Knox Freed; Executor of Michael Jackson Estate Talks Tributes and Cirque du Soleil
Aired October 3, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Knox Amanda is free.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight, bombshell in Italy. After nearly four years in jail for murder, Amanda Knox goes free when a court overturns a conviction on appeal. I'll talk with a close friend of the Knox family, legal expert Dan Abrams on what changed, and the author who wrote the book on the nightmare that Amanda Knox has gone through.
Plus an exclusive look inside Michael Jackson's multibillion-dollar estate.
JOHN BRANCA, CO-EXECUTOR OF THE MICHAEL JACKSON ESTATE: It's been reported that Sony ATV is worth upwards of $2 billion and Michael owns half.
MORGAN: I'll talk to two of the men who knew him best.
HOWARD WEITZMAN, LAWYER FOR THE MICHAEL JACKSON ESTATE: Michael truly was one of a kind.
MORGAN: Plus a never-before-seen preview of Michael's new show.
WEITZMAN: Seems like a match made in heaven.
MORGAN: This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
American student Amanda Knox walked free from an Italian prison tonight after serving four years for a horrific crime she didn't commit. Her nightmare began when her roommate Meredith Kercher was brutally assaulted and murdered in a cottage they shared in the Italian city of Perugia.
Tonight Amanda and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaelle Sollecito are finally free after the guilty verdict against them were overturned. And she's preparing to fly home to the United States to rebuild her shattered life.
For the latest, let's go to Matthew Chance from CNN in Perugia.
Matthew, you've been there the whole time out here. You were in court today. Dramatic scenes. Were you expecting that? You've been following this very closely for years.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, I wasn't quite expecting the level of emotion that I witnessed in the court today. I mean it really was tense. You had both the Knox family and the Kercher family sitting in the same court.
The Kerchers very much wanted for Amanda Knox to stay in prison. They wanted the conviction to be upheld. Obviously, the Knoxs wanted the opposite. And when it went the Knox's way, I mean there were whoops and there were chants. And you know the real palpable tension. They were so happy.
Amanda was just so overcome with emotion. She could barely walk, she was crying so much when she walked past me. But there were tears as well from the Kerchers because they were very, very upset. Obviously they've gone through, you know, such a lot in the past several years since Meredith was killed.
They truly believed that that first conviction of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito was the right way for the police to go and that -- they're devastated that it's gone this way.
MORGAN: The Kerchers, unless I'm wrong, haven't really said anything since this verdict came in in public, whereas the Knox family, as you would expect, have been pretty jubilant. What do you think is going through the Kerchers' mind?
I mean, I guess the obvious thing is that their daughter was brutally murdered, and right now they don't know who did it. I mean they obviously suspected and believed it was Amanda Knox and her boyfriend. But now, you know, the justice system and many people would argue fairly has said there wasn't the evidence.
CHANCE: Well, that's right. I mean in fact, the Kerchers have been very, you know, kind of under the radar as it were, you know, for the past several months, and the past several years since Meredith was killed. They did give a press conference today, though. Spoke to the media saying that, you know, they believe the original sentence was the right one. They believed that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were guilty of involvement in the killing of their -- of their daughter, their sister.
And they wanted that sentence to be upheld. But obviously the jury didn't see it the same way. There's been big changes in the past couple of months, not least the DNA evidence which has been undermined by the court's own independent forensic expert saying it's not -- you know it's not sound. It's not reliable evidence.
Take away that physical evidence from this -- from this hearing, from this trial and what we were left with was an acquittal. This wasn't the evidence putting Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito at the murder scene.
MORGAN: Matthew Chance, thank you very much.
ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams has had a close eye on this case for the last four years.
Dan, what did you make of this stunning verdict today? DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: I thought it was the right call. I think that once the DNA evidence was discredited, the link to murder simply wasn't there. I expected that there would be some sort of compromise verdict as we saw here with the three-year sentence, but basically saying it's time served.
MORGAN: And the complication came from this issue of defamation where she had -- Amanda Knox had accused Patrick Lumumba, an early suspect in the case, of doing the killing. And he was awarded damages. Explain how this all works legally.
ABRAMS: Well, he was completely cleared. He turns out he had an alibi. And she had pointed the finger at him. And so in Italy, you sort of move forward with the civil and the criminal cases together. So his lawyer was present throughout the process.
But this really brings up a bigger issue. And that is that the reason Amanda Knox got into a lot of this trouble is because she made inaccurate, untruthful statements to the authorities about significant points in the investigation like this.
Now she would say she was coerced. She would say she was effectively forced to make them. If that's true, then this has been a complete travesty of justice. But if that's not necessarily true, even if there isn't a link to murder here, that means that there were statements that explain why the authorities went down this road in the first place.
MORGAN: See what is very interesting to me, having been in America for the last few months where the media were definitely slanted, I felt, towards her being acquitted and that she was an innocent young American woman, here in Britain, where I am at the moment, very much a different view. Because, of course, Meredith Kercher was a British girl and her family have given some impassioned interviews.
And the media here have latched on to a lot of these -- as they say -- lies by Amanda Knox as evidence that she's not a trustworthy witness in all this. So it's quite a messy situation, isn't it?
ABRAMS: That's right. But just because she wasn't a trustworthy witness, so to speak, doesn't mean she was involved in the murder. And that's why I think that this was the right decision. Because the key to the murder case was the two pieces of DNA. One of Amanda Knox, one linking her boyfriend.
Those became the essence in many ways of the prosecution's case in conjunction with what they said were her lies. Without those pieces of evidence, I simply don't see how they would have been able to uphold this murder conviction.
Remember, this judge, who ordered them to retest the DNA evidence, is one of the same judges who determined her fate. So imagine this. Imagine the judge says, you know what? We need some new testing on the DNA evidence. The DNA evidence then comes back and it's totally discredited. And then the judge says, thank you very much. I appreciate that it was discredited. I'm still going to uphold the murder conviction. It would have been very, very hard to do.
MORGAN: Where are we now with the legal process? Is it over? Apparently they can appeal but only on the legal technicality. Could you explain what that means?
ABRAMS: Yes, that's right. Meaning up to this point, the appeal in the appeals court was a retrial of all the facts. Both sides got to present new evidence, new facts. They had a second shot at the apple. Remember, prosecutors were asking for a stiffer sentence here.
In the highest court in Italy, it's very similar to our courts in the sense -- here in the United States in the sense that you can only really challenge legal error. You don't get to retry all the facts again. But interestingly, the prosecution can still appeal again. They can say, we think that there were legal errors made. For example, not letting -- not allowing for another test of the DNA evidence.
But even if they want, meaning even if the prosecution won in Italy's highest court, I simply can't see the Italian authorities demanding extradition and the U.S. complying. I think Amanda Knox will be safe and sound at home.
MORGAN: Dan Abrams, thank you very much.
ABRAMS: Good to be with you, Piers.
MORGAN: How will Amanda Knox and her family move on? I'm joined by Nina Burleigh, author of "The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox," Thomas Wright, the founder of the Friends of Amanda Knox and Anne Bremner, a former prosecutor and advocating for the acquittal of Amanda Knox.
Let me start with you, Nina Burleigh. You wrote a book about Amanda Knox, a fascinating young woman in many ways. Are you concerned about the kind of celebrification of her through this case and the kind of pressure that will now put on her when she tries to return to normal life?
NINA BURLEIGH, AUTHOR, "THE FATAL GIFT OF BEAUTY: THE TRIALS OF AMANDA KNOX": Well, I don't know that there's been a lot of celebrification going on as much as demonization. And I think a lot of that has to do with the -- you know, the tabloid press, especially in the UK, where they pay for interviews and pay sources to talk to them. And you know one of the interviews that they did with Patrick Lumumba was one of the most damaging interviews done, really painted her as a character who was -- you know going to be replaced in her job by Meredith Kercher.
I think he put a motive into the case. And when I interviewed him because American journalists don't pay for interviews, when I interviewed him for my book, he retracted every bit of it. So I'm not sure that she's been celebrified as much as demonized. And I think it's going to take her a long time to get over the trauma of that actually.
MORGAN: Let me bring in Thomas Wright. You're a Knox family friend. It's been a trial by media as much as trial in a courtroom for Amanda Knox. Very, very tough for her and her family. How have they all been bearing up?
THOMAS WRIGHT, KNOX FAMILY FRIEND: Well, it's been incredibly difficult, Piers. And one of the things I'd like to do is correct the record right off the top. Amanda Knox is not a liar. This is an outstanding young woman. And those of us that have known her for many years know that.
Let me just take a couple of points that have been made. Number one, we don't really know what took place in that questioning -- in the police station because it wasn't recorded as required by Italian law, by the prosecutor.
And it's very curious that that prosecutor didn't record it considering that he had already been convicted and has been convicted of illegal wiretap of public officials and sentenced to 16 months. And he's on appeal now.
In terms of the -- in terms of the defamation, it's also very curious that he would go out and arrest Pat Lumumba and keep him incarcerated for two weeks if he had an ironclad alibi. And in terms of the coercion that was exerted, I would say it's suggestive of coercion that over 12 police officers kept her in a room for 14 hours and 12 police officers signed the arrest warrant at the end of that period.
So I think we're going to be finding out an awful lot about her experience when she gets -- when she gets home and she gets settled in and she begins her transition. We knew her as an outstanding individual, an athlete, a scholar, someone who was popular, well thought of and a very, very kind and gentle person.
MORGAN: Anne, you're a former prosecutor yourself. Clearly, as I say, passions running high. You'd understand why friends and family of Amanda Knox feel so angry tonight. But at the same time, you know, an apparently innocent man Patrick Lumumba was accused directly and was arrested and held, so on, with this crime, which he was later found to have a cast-iron alibi for.
So where do you think Amanda's blame lies here? Do you believe that she was guilty of lying?
ANNE BREMNER, FORMER PROSECUTOR: No, I don't. And Tom Wright has worked tirelessly on behalf of Amanda and with the Friends of Amanda Knox, Piers. The -- that whole interrogation went overnight like Tom said without a certified interpreter without a lawyer in Italian.
She didn't speak any Italian. It was like rudimentary. And they gave a description of somebody, the police did, to her, that matched Patrick in certain respects. I'm not going to go into here other than to say certain parts, hairs, things like that. And so it wasn't like she said, he did it and, you know, falsely accused somebody else. And the fact of the matter is, defamation in Italy, they have accused "OGI" magazine which is "People" magazine in Italy of defamation. Amanda's parents. Amanda, and they have tried to indict one of our newspapers out here the "West Seattle Herald" for defamation this prosecutor has, and they don't even have an international section.
So I'm saying today, that's great news for Amanda and her family. This has been a long time in coming. She's innocent of this horrible murder. And she was demonized like Nina said. You know, "foxy Knoxy", the she-devil, the angel face from Seattle. That's how they started the case, that's how they ended the case. But ultimately the evidence carried the day and she -- this conviction has been correctly overturned.
MORGAN: Finally, let me just ask Thomas Wright again.
Thomas, I mean, do you believe the family feel so angry about the defamation conviction that they may seek to have that overturned?
WRIGHT: I can't speak for the family. I know there's a great deal of relief. This poor young lady was -- went through a lot of suffering in the last four years. Her family was brought to the brink of bankruptcy. They're going to have a lot to heal.
I'd say there's a great deal of relief and a great deal of joy, and she'll be welcomed back into her community because she was well thought of when she left and she's well thought of upon returning.
MORGAN: Thomas Wright, Nina Burleigh and Anne Bremner, thank you all very much.
WRIGHT: Thank you.
BURLEIGH: You're welcome.
MORGAN: After the break, what will be the emotional impact on Amanda Knox? I'll ask Dr. Drew Pinsky for his verdict.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANDA KNOX, FREED FROM ITALIAN PRISON (Through Translator): I don't want to be punished. Half my life, my future taken away from me for things that I haven't committed because I am innocent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was Amanda Knox today in court pleading her innocence. She's been freed after serving four years in prison for a brutal crime she didn't commit. She finally has her freedom.
The emotional scars may take longer to heal. Joining me now is Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of HLN's "Dr. Drew" and a new daytime show "Dr. Drew's Life Changes" on the CW.
Drew, a fascinating case in many ways. What was your overall take of the whole thing?
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S DR. DREW: You know, Piers, my overall take was there was nothing that I could glean from this young lady's history that suggested anything like the way she was portrayed in the Italian press or by the -- by the prosecutors in this case. Not only that, this whole nonsense of there having been this bizarre threesome with people taunting each other with knives. People don't behave like that, not out of the blue.
And even then, when somebody is cut excessively in that kind of an acting-out behavior, that somebody who was into that cutting and it goes too far or somebody who's into this violence, has a long history of this kind of violent acting out in their intimate encounters, and it goes too far.
There was absolutely nothing about this case that fit reality, frankly. So although there was lots of peculiarities about Amanda Knox's behavior as she was brought into custody, the reality is, the human reality is nothing about this case made sense to me.
MORGAN: What could you deduce about Amanda Knox herself? Obviously she was very young when this happened.
MORGAN: Just hit her 20s. I heard from a family friend just now very eloquent, saying she was a very nice, quiet, normal girl, he didn't believe she's even capable of lying, and yet she has been convicted of defamation. That may be another one of the vagaries of the Italian justice system. We may never know the answers to all these things.
But from your assessment what kind of woman is Amanda Knox?
PINSKY: There's two things I want to comment on that, Piers. One is this idea that she was promiscuous. Promiscuous because she was sexually active with a boyfriend and her roommate was upset with that, and that they were fighting about that?
If that was a motivation for murder, there would be dead bodies in college campuses all over this country. I mean, that's absurd, number one. But I think -- and the answer to your question, the primary answer is this young lady was naive, exceedingly naive. And I think -- I think it's a cautionary tale for all the young Americans that go overseas with the naive notion that they can carry on the way they do here and that they're not living in a different culture with a different set of standards, with a different legal system that they can get trapped in.
And I do think a lot of the bizarre behaviors that were witnessed in her after she was caught, brought in for questioning, was a function of this idea that this was a fantasy, this isn't something real, the depth of her naivete is profound and I think that were shattered. And I think that's what we're going to hear from her when she gets back to Seattle.
MORGAN: Dr. Drew, as always, perfect analysis. Thank you very much.
PINSKY: Thank you, Piers. Appreciate it.
MORGAN: When we come back, I'll talk to one of Michael Jackson's closest friends about the singer's death, the billion-dollar estate he left behind, and the new Cirque du Soleil show that he inspired.
MORGAN: John Branca is co-executor of Michael Jackson's estate. The estate has already grossed more than every other celebrity estate combined. Howard Weitzman is the attorney for the estate. And John Branca and Howard Weitzman join me now.
Let me start with you, John. You very rarely give television interviews. What is your primary motivation in going public now?
BRANCA: Well, Piers, Michael is no longer with us, obviously. And we felt that we have a message to get out to talk about the Cirque Immortal show and various other questions that we felt would be good to address at this time.
MORGAN: You knew Michael for well on 30 years. An extraordinary long relationship with him. How would you describe the nature of your relationship over that time? It was a bit rollercoaster, wasn't it? You sort of dipped in and out of his business life.
BRANCA: Well, we started in January of 1980. And I'll never forget the first meeting. Michael had his sunglasses on. And in the middle of the interview, he leaned over and he said, Branca, do I know you? I said, I don't think so, Michael. I think this is the first time we've met. And he said, are you sure? And I said, Michael, I think I would remember.
BRANCA: So we went for about a decade, and then on and off for pretty close to three decades. I was his principle business adviser through much of that period. And we had developed a friendship as well.
MORGAN: I interviewed him once. Fascinating experience. And I've discussed this on the show a few times but you're the most interesting guy to talk to about that because I felt when I talked to him about charity work or children or whoever it may be, he had a soft, gentle, high pitched voice.
When I talked to him about anything to do with business, it seemed to drop a couple of octaves and he became much more serious and, dare I say it, adult in the way he spoke.
Did you find that with him?
BRANCA: Absolutely. Michael was multifaceted. He was misunderstood in some ways, but we think that the movie "This Is It" gave fans a pretty good glimpse at the real Michael. He was a perfectionist and at the same time he was a humanitarian who respected the work of his fellow artists.
MORGAN: Like a good businessman, would you say?
BRANCA: Yes, Michael had great instincts, particularly with regard to marketing and promotion. He was always connected with his fans. And he's had a loyal fan base to this day.
MORGAN: You had this extraordinary experience with him on "Thriller" when most videos at the time were going for about $50,000 to make them. And Michael had this ever more fanciful plan, which meant the cost of making the "Thriller" video was going to be $1 million. And he came to you and said, right, Branca, make this work.
And you had the brilliant idea of going off and pitching the making of the "Thriller" video as a TV show in its own right and a video. And you sold that for $1.2 million. So you ended up making Michael a profit. He must have thought you were a genius, didn't he?
BRANCA: Well, Michael was the genius. But the "Thriller" video was so good, it's been considered the greatest video of all time.
MORGAN: And the other smart business move that Michael Jackson made -- I know you were heavily involved in this -- was the decision to get his hands on the Beatles catalog. Tell me about that process.
BRANCA: Well, Michael was good friends with Paul McCartney. And after "Thriller," Michael had a lot of money, a lot of cash. So Michael asked me to call Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, his good friends. He did not want to bid against them. And I spoke with Yoko. And I said, Yoko, are you bidding on this catalog? And she said, no. We'd be thrilled if Michael could get it rather than some big corporation.
I spoke to Paul McCartney's lawyer who said they were not bidding. So we went out. It took us a year to close that deal. It wasn't easy. There was a lot of competition. But Michael was passionate. He wanted to invest in things that he was passionate about. So we did buy the Beatles catalog. We later brought some Elvis Presley copyrights. And that publishing company now forms the cornerstone for his net worth.
MORGAN: But in terms of the Beatles music, is that still part of Michael's estate?
BRANCA: Absolutely, yes.
MORGAN: And in terms of the sheer number crunching here, could you tell me now what he paid for it and what it might now be worth?
BRANCA: Well, we bought the catalog in 1985. We spent $47.5 million, which is well known. We sold off a background music library. So his net investment was about $41 million. And while I can't give out confidential details, it's been reported that Sony ATV is worth upwards of $2 billion and Michael owns half. MORGAN: Wow. So he took it from 40-odd million to $1 billion?
BRANCA: Yes. And I would say in addition to Sony ATV, Michael has his own publishing company which is called My Jack which owns all of his own songs as well as many other songs we bought over the years. So when you add the two companies together, it's even more valuable.
MORGAN: So all this stuff about Michael being half a billion dollars in debt when he died is a load of baloney, isn't it? Assuming the publishing rights alone by the sound of it were worth several billion dollars.
BRANCA: Well, Piers, I'd like to comment on speculation about Michael's debt. Net worth, you know, one doesn't want to have to sell those assets. So you know, those are cornerstone assets that we keep on -- we plan on keeping for Michael's children and keeping those in the family.
MORGAN: What kind of decisions have you taken which have turned out to be very smart ones in relation to handling his estate?
BRANCA: Well, my co-executor John MaClean and I -- let's face it, Piers, we're fortunate to represent Michael Jackson. Which makes our job an easy one in some senses. But I think the first thing we did is we made a decision to greenlight "This Is It," the motion picture.
And I will say at the time we were criticized. People -- you know, some family members said Michael wouldn't want these rehearsal tapes out there. But John and I felt that you really saw Michael as a great artist and a great humanitarian. That was our first big decision.
And it went on to become the biggest documentary and the biggest concert film of all time. And I think we converted even new followers for Michael.
MORGAN: When I interviewed Jermaine Jackson recently, he said that there were lots of outtakes from that film which, if people saw those, they would be concerned about Michael's fragility, his fragile condition. What would you say to that?
BRANCA: I'm not sure if that's true or not. Kenny Ortega, who is a great director, went through all of the footage to assemble it together. And you know, I think with any artist, they have their great days and they have off days. That's the nature of rehearsal.
So I have not seen all the outtakes, but I'm pretty confident that what you see on the screen represented the true Michael.
MORGAN: You were so close to him that, at one stage when you got married for the first time, Michael came, was best man. He brought Bubbles the Chimp who wore a tuxedo. Little Richard was the minister. Hard to imagine anyone being as close to him as you were at the time.
He brought you back into his business life shortly before he died, didn't he? Was that to run the concert stage of things? I know you weren't working for AEG, but explain that relationship. BRANCA: First, I'm glad you mentioned that first wedding, because I have fond memories of Michael being the best man and Bubbles in the tuxedo. It was priceless. It was priceless.
In terms of coming back into Michael's life, we separated amicably in 2006. And I got a call from Michael's manager, Frank Dileo, about a month before we met. And Michael was excited and Frank was excited about the tour. And they wanted me to give some thought about some ideas of what we could do around the tour.
Frank Dileo and I met several times. Then finally I met again with Michael about a week before he passed away. We met at the forum where he was rehearsing. And I'm so glad that we got that chance to see each other again.
MORGAN: How did he seem to you?
BRANCA: It wasn't a long meeting. You know, I was there for perhaps an hour. And Michael seemed fine. He seemed -- you know, there were different Michaels. I've seen Michael at times where he's been very introverted and very quiet, and other times where he's very extroverted.
I think that night he was really preparing for the show. He was leaving for England soon. So it was hard to draw any conclusions from that meeting.
MORGAN: We'll take a short break, John. When we come back, I want to talk to you and Howard about the moment you heard that Michael had died, and the problems that you've had in running this extraordinarily complex estate.
MORGAN: I'm back now with John Branca, co-executor of Michael Jackson's estate, and Howard Weitzman, Jackson's attorney. Howard, let me just bring in you in here. Obviously fascinating conversation there with John. People didn't really understand, I don't think, just what a business empire Michael Jackson had amassed by the end.
In all your experience of working in the entertainment industry, how did Michael's business empire rank?
WEITZMAN: Michael truly was one of a kind. There are very few legitimate icons in the entertainment business. A lot of people try to get to that level or are looked at in different ways, but Michael was really one of a kind. He had the ability to generate millions and millions of fans worldwide. That converted to huge numbers.
And we see that, unfortunately, post-death, as well as when he was alive. An extraordinary individual.
MORGAN: Is it right to say -- I don't want to be morbid about this, but is it right to say -- there's an old sort of joke about this, that when entertainers die, it's often their best career move, because billions and billions of their records get sold and so on. But there is a certain truth to that, isn't there, if you look at Elvis, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and so on, their death can spark huge sums of money coming into the estate.
WEITZMAN: I think that's true. The catalog sales spike for a while. What differentiates Michael from others, in my opinion, the "This Is It" record -- or the "This Is It" film, for example, the "This Is It" CD, now the Cirque shows. He was able to create additional businesses well beyond the music. And that's unusual.
MORGAN: John, let me ask you. Michael was well known to be pretty profligate with his spending. How big a problem was that for him? I don't want you to get into the precise details of what debt he may or may not have had. But was his spending out of control, as people kept saying it was?
BRANCA: Well, that was an area that was handled by Michael's business managers and accountants. And Michael made a lot of money. And I probably believe it's true that he spent a lot of money. But he left a lot behind. He had a lot to show for it.
MORGAN: You worked on the Elvis estate briefly, I know that.
MORGAN: How does this compare, two great entertainers, solo artists? How do their estates compare in terms of how you manage them?
BRANCA: Well, it's hard to compare. Elvis came up in a different era, in the '50s. I was a big Elvis fan. That's one of the reasons I got in the music industry.
But Michael, you know, went to the Berry Gordy Motown school of the music business, and then learned from great teachers. One of the things I have found representing various members of the hall of fame is, as the generations have gone by, musicians have become very much smarter. And so Michael, I think, learned from his predecessors, as did I.
And so he was able to control his assets in a way that previous entertainers had not.
MORGAN: How fast have those assets appreciated since his death?
BRANCA: Well, you know, we've tried to do the right things. I think John Maclean and I have had the advantage of having a decades long relationship with Michael. John went to school with Michael and his brothers, managed Michael at one point. I was a principle business adviser since 1980.
So we kind of knew how Michael thought, what kind of choices he would make. I was familiar with the assets. So we've been able to make decisions that we think were true to Michael. So therefore, we hope we're adding value to Michael's estate in that regard.
MORGAN: It's not been without its problems, this estate, because both Katherine Jackson and Joe Jackson challenged the will quite early on. What was that all about? Why were the family unsettled by the will? The will was written in 2002. So a long time before he died.
WEITZMAN: Well, I think they were ill advised and the challenge was ill conceived. Michael clearly appointed John Maclean, John Branca to be the executors of his will, the trustees of his trusts. Ultimately, the court rejected the challenge. The court of appeals rejected the challenge. And John Maclean and John Branca are, in fact, the executors and the trustees.
MORGAN: Am I right in thinking the estate is already petitioned to distribute 30 million dollars to the will's beneficiaries, who would be his immediate family and children?
WEITZMAN: Yeah. It's something we had planned on a year ago. It's only a preliminary distribution. You know, the court has a certain process we have to go through. You deal with IRS issues, state of California estate issues. But ultimately the executors, John Branca and John Maclean, decided that it was time for a preliminary distribution. Thirty million dollars went into Michael Jackson's family trust.
MORGAN: John, presumably as the co-executor, would you have read the will to the family?
BRANCA: Yes, I did, to Mrs. Jackson and several of Michael's siblings.
MORGAN: A pretty extraordinary experience. How was that?
BRANCA: Very emotional. Mrs. Jackson had lost her son. Michael's brothers and sisters have lost a beloved brother. And we gathered at Jermaine's house and read the will. And I left her with a copy of the will. I think we were all in a state of shock.
No one could have anticipated Michael's passing.
MORGAN: What was your first reaction, I guess? Did you know you were co-executor still? Were you aware that that 2002 will was still in play?
BRANCA: No, not at all. Michael had a succession of attorneys and business advisers subsequently. And I did not know which was the final will. We turned the will into the court. And we did not know if there would be another more recent will.
MORGAN: Have you managed to -- not patch things up, but have you managed to calm the family down now about your intentions being perfectly honorable in relation to the will? Are they in a more relaxed frame of mind about it?
BRANCA: I would think so. I would hope so. Michael's brother Jackie is a consultant to the estate, as is Michael's nephew, Taj. And of course, Mrs. Jackson and Michael's three children are the sole beneficiaries of the estate other than, of course, the contribution we will make to charity. MORGAN: Another short break. When come back, I want to talk to you about, in particular, the Cirque Du Soleil project, which is probably the biggest thing that you sanctioned as a co-executor, and see what the plan is for that.
MORGAN: Back now with my special guests, John Branca and Howard Weitzman. John, tell me about Cirque du Soleil, because your history with Michael and this particular show goes back I think to Santa Monica Pier. Is that right?
BRANCA: That's true, Piers. I remember a night, I believe it was in 1989, where Michael and I went to the first ever Cirque Du Soleil tent show, which was at the Santa Monica Pier.
What I remember about that night, we were in a van. I was driving. And why we were in a van, I cannot remember. Michael had a nice car, I had a nice car. Here was Michael, the biggest star in the world. And we went with no security. And I was so nervous driving Michael, I got lost on the 405 freeway.
So we ended up getting to the Cirque show. Michael was clearly captivated. He said to me, Branca, we have to go backstage after the show. Of course, Michael. So we go backstage and he wanted to meet the cast. I will never forget. I can't tell who was more excited, Michael to meet the cast or the cast to meet Michael.
It was one of those magical nights. And subsequently, Michael visited Montreal on more than one occasion to meet with the Cirque owner, Gilles la Liberte (ph). Michael was a big fan of Cirque.
So John Maclean and I knew we had to create a live show. Berry Gordie called Michael the greatest entertainer who ever lived. So to do a live show properly, we knew it had to be something really special. You certainly couldn't put somebody up on stage to try to impersonate Michael. That would be absurd.
So we considered the various alternatives. And low and behold, we got a call from Gilles la Liberte, who said Cirque was interested in doing a Michael Jackson show. If you've seen the Cirque du Soleil shows, they've created some of the greatest shows ever made.
We figured this might be the perfect marriage. If you saw "This Is It," Piers, you see what a perfectionist Michael was. And we see the same level of detail in Cirque du Soleil. So it seems like a match made in heaven.
MORGAN: The match, just to clarify, is a kind of fusion of Cirque du Soleil, as we would know it, but mixed with Michael's music. Is that right?
BRANCA: That's right. One of our key objectives is Cirque has a number of shows. And they're all outstanding. But we wanted to make sure this was a Michael Jackson show. Michael's fans want a Michael Jackson show. And Cirque was on board for that.
We have hired many people who collaborated with Michael. The director, Jamie King, danced with Michael. Two of the choreographers, Travis Pane (ph) and the Tallajuega (ph) brothers, worked with Michael.
There's a live band in the show, run by Greg Philinganes (ph), who played on all of Michael's albums and toured with Michael.
So what you see, this is a traveling rock show that will travel to arenas throughout the world, live band, Michael's vocals, incredible visuals and incredible choreography. And you'll come away seeing something that I don't think has ever been done before, a Michael Jackson show done by Cirque du Soleil.
MORGAN: In 2013, it goes to Vegas permanently and there will be a Michael Jackson Museum?
BRANCA: There will be another show that's created permanently and specifically for a theater in Las Vegas in 2013.
MORGAN: Let me bring you in, Howard. I think it's more appropriate to ask you about the ongoing trial with Conrad Murray. You were the guy who represented Michael over the child abuse allegations in 1993. What do you make of all this?
WEITZMAN: The issue in this case will be, did Conrad Murray engage in the appropriate standard of care for a physician in that situation. I have read the same stuff you have read about his defense. I have tried over 200 jury trials. So I know enough to know you can't really predict it. The evidence will be what it is.
But it seems to me, pointing the finger at the victim is always an uphill battle. That appears to be Dr. Murray's defense. What I hope personally is that the jury does the right thing.
MORGAN: Many people have said to me that the catalyst for Michael's problems with painkiller addiction and sleep problems and so on was two fold. One was the horrific accident with the Pepsi commercial where his hair was set on fire and it caused him severe burning. He took the pain killers for that.
Secondly, that the child abuse allegations had a hugely detrimental effect on his health and on his sleep. You were obviously at the center of that. What do you think of that?
WEITZMAN: I think the pressures of any allegations, even though they're false and even though it turns out you're acquitted, put tremendous pressure on you. And I also think the demands of one's business can put pressures on you. I really am not privy to Michael's drug use. Again, only what I've read about and heard about.
Either way, someone else pointing the finger at him as being responsible for his own death is a concept that I reject.
MORGAN: Let me, John, finish with you. I saw Michael Jackson perform a couple times live. And to me he was the greatest entertainer that I ever saw. You have represented, as Howard has, many of the great entertainers in the world. What did you think of his status as a performer?
BRANCA: I think it was unparalleled. It's very rare you can see someone who can write the songs like Michael did, sing them with his vocal ability, choreograph them, produce them, and then go out and perform them. Anyone who could do any one of those things can be a star. Then you add in Michael's fashion sense and you have a one of a kind superstar.
MORGAN: What do you think his legacy will be?
BRANCA: As Berry Gordy said, the greatest performer who ever lived.
WEITZMAN: For me, when people ask me to describe Michael Jackson, I say push the play button on the video or on your iPod and that says it all.
MORGAN: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. To me, he was the real king of pop.
MORGAN: John, Howard, thank you both very much, indeed.
WEITZMAN: Thank you.
MORGAN: After the break, our exclusive with Michael Jackson's mother and his children as they attend to launch of the show which aims to keep the memory of their father alive.
MORGAN: "Michael Jackson, The Immortal World Tour" is a tribute to Michael and his music with Cirque du Soleil. The show opened in Montreal over the weekend. Michael's mother Katherine and his children were in attendance. We caught up with them exclusively.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHERINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S MOTHER: I thought every song was very good. My impression of the show that it was fantastic. I thought it was one of the best shows that I've seen.
PARIS JACKSON, DAUGHTER OF MICHAEL JACKSON: It was like amazing. It brought tears to my eyes. I almost cried. It was really amazing.
PRINCE JACKSON, SON OF MICHAEL JACKSON: He would have thought it was performed really well. It kept getting better and better.
K. JACKSON: I'm his mother, so quite naturally, I just thought everything was good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: An incredible show based on the life of an incredible entertainer. That's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts right now.