Jurors were given opposing images of Michael Jackson as the pop star's molestation trial opened today (Feb. 28) in Santa Maria, Calif.: the prosecution portraying him as a perverted child molester and
Jurors were given opposing images of Michael Jackson as the pop star's molestation trial opened today (Feb. 28) in Santa Maria, Calif.: the prosecution portraying him as a perverted child molester and the defense saying he was the victim of a con artist who used her cancer-stricken son to prey on celebrities for money.
District Attorney Thomas Sneddon outlined a complicated and sometimes bizarre story involving Jackson showing the boy sexually explicit material and groping him as his associates threatened to kill the boy's mother if he told anyone.
Sneddon said the boy, now 15, "will describe to you his sexual experiences with Michael Jackson. He will do it here in open court and he will do it with the whole world watching."
Jackson sat still as a statue with one hand pressed against his cheek as Sneddon outlined the accusations. In the front row of the courtroom, Jackson's mother, Katharine, sat beside her son Jermaine. They were the only Jackson family members present.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting the then-13-year-old cancer patient at his Neverland ranch in 2003, plying him with alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive. He has pleaded not guilty.
After the nearly three-hour opening by the prosecutor, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau. Jr. went on the attack, saying the mother of the accuser fraudulently claimed to many people that she was destitute and that her son needed money for chemotherapy. In truth, he said, the boy's father was a member of a union that covered his medical bills.
Mesereau said the mother went to comedian Jay Leno for money and Leno was so suspicious that he called Santa Barbara police to tell them he had been contacted and "something was wrong. They were looking for a mark." The mother also approached comedian George Lopez and a Los Angeles TV weatherman who staged a fund-raiser for the child at a comedy club, the defense attorney said.
He said celebrities including Mike Tyson and Jim Carrey turned the family away, but Jackson was too sympathetic. "The most vulnerable celebrity became the mark, Michael Jackson," Mesereau said.
But the prosecutor said Jackson had intended to use the boy as part of a comeback attempt by discussing in a television documentary how the singer helped him through his cancer. Before the interview with documentary maker Martin Bashir in 2002, Jackson privately told the boy what to say when he was in front of the camera, Sneddon said.
When the February 2003 TV documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," aired, showing the pop star holding hands with the boy and saying he allows children to sleep in his bed, "Jackson's world was rocked," Sneddon said.
He said one of co-conspirators described the airing as "a train wreck" and Jackson's associates began a bid to get the family's help in a public relations campaign to rebut it. The molestation began a short time later, Sneddon said.
Sneddon said Jackson told the boy that masturbation was normal, then reached into the boy's underpants and masturbated the boy and himself. The second event occurred the same way, Sneddon said, but Jackson tried to move the boy's arm toward his own genitals and the boy resisted.
The prosecutor alleged that when the boy and his family first visited Neverland, Jackson told the boy to ask his mother if he could sleep in Jackson's bedroom. He said Jackson then showed sexually explicit Web sites to the boy and his own son, Prince Michael, on that visit. When an image of a woman with bare breasts came on the screen, Sneddon said, Jackson turned to the group and said: "Got milk?"
Searches of Neverland turned up sexually explicit DVDs and magazines, including 1960s-era periodicals with pictures of naked children, and correspondence from the accuser addressed to "Michael" or "Michael Daddy," Sneddon said.
Some magazines had the fingerprints of Jackson, others had the prints of the boy and his brother, and one had prints from both Jackson and the accuser, he said.
Before opening statements, Judge Rodney S. Melville read the indictment, revealing for the first time the names of five Jackson employees described as unindicted co-conspirators.
The indictment alleged a series of bizarre activities following the 2003 documentary, including a panicky effort by Jackson employees to get the family of his accuser ready for a trip to Brazil.
It alleged that Jackson employee Frank Tyson told the family they were in danger and "this is not the time to be out there alone. This is not the time to turn your back on Michael." The indictment said Tyson also told them that "staying even one night alone is not safe."
The indictment stated that between February and March 2003, Tyson threatened the accuser, telling him that "Michael could make the family disappear" and that he also said, "I could have your mother killed." It also alleged that in February 2003, Jackson's staff was instructed in writing not to let the boy leave Neverland.
Jackson's attorney, meanwhile, suggested a history of fraud by the mother against others including J.C. Penney, which paid her $152,000 to settle claims stemming from an encounter with security guards when her son left a store with items that had not been paid for. The mother claimed they were battered, held against their will and that she was groped.
Mesereau said an employee of a law firm that represented the mother in the J.C. Penney suit has come forward and will testify that the mother admitted lying. The employee didn't come forward before because the mother said her husband had a cousin in the Mexican mafia and she feared for her life, Mesereau told the jury.
Jackson was depicted by his attorney as a humanitarian who built his Neverland ranch to give children something he never had -- a childhood.
He said that an appeal for help by the accuser's family touched Jackson's heart and "he took time away from his career to help this family, not knowing that the trap was being set."
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