The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case on yesterday (Jan. 12) delayed a ruling on whether jurors at his trial could be hear prosecution contentions that the pop star had a pattern of

The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case on yesterday (Jan. 12) delayed a ruling on whether jurors at his trial could be hear prosecution contentions that the pop star had a pattern of sexually abusing young boys.

Santa Barbara (Calif.) Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said he was not inclined to consider evidence that Jackson may have sexually abused other boys until he heard the bulk of the prosecution's case against the 46-year-old entertainer.

And in a rare victory for reporters covering the case, the judge said he was unlikely to conduct hearings on the matter behind closed doors. The judge has clamped a lid of secrecy on the case, saying that such measures are required to protect Jackson's right to a fair trial.

The judge said he did not believe that under California law he could conduct hearings in the privacy of his chambers, as the defense wanted, on evidentiary matters.

Melville said in the past he had presided over cases where he had allowed evidence of past wrongdoing to be presented to a jury, then discovered the prosecution did not have enough evidence to prove its current case. He said wanted to make sure prosecutors could prove their charges against Jackson before allowing accusations about his past activities into the trial.

The current case marks the first time Jackson has been arrested or charged with a sexual offense. In the mid-1990s, a boy accused Jackson of molesting him, but an out-of-court civil settlement was reached and no criminal charges were filed.

Jackson's lawyers have asked Melville to bar any such evidence, calling it flimsy and saying prosecutors had cited seven previous cases of sexual abuse by Jackson but were only prepared to call one witness. And in court filings, they argued media coverage could prejudice potential jurors.

Jackson, who is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 31, skipped the hearing in the central California city of Santa Maria, near his Neverland Valley Ranch, with Melville's permission. But the judge told lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau that he wanted to see Jackson in court when jury selection begins.


COPYRIGHT: (c) Reuters 2005. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.