The Gloves Come Off
Just in its second week, the Jackson trial is already getting right to the heart of the case against the 46-year-old defendant. So far the court has heard from the sister of the accuser, as well as the brother, who along with prosecutor Thomas Sneddon painted a lurid picture of the superstar singer as a kind of super satyr—a man who plied the children with wine, which he called "Jesus Juice," surfed porn sites with them and molested the accuser, who was recovering from multiple cancers. And within a few days the jury could be hearing from the accuser, now 15, himself. Yet how much damage their testimony will do is an open question. After the brother's first day on the stand, former prosecutor Jim Hammer cautioned, "He was a very earnest and credible-sounding witness, but let's see how he holds up under cross-examination."
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. did manage to catch the brother in some factual errors and inconsistencies—such as which porno magazine Jackson showed him. And when Mesereau grilled the accuser's sister about details other experience at Neverland, she suffered repeated bouts of hazy memory, often saying "I don't know" or "I don't recall." Just over the horizon the prosecution also faces the prospect of a fierce attack on the credibility of the accuser's mother (see box, p. 95), whom Mesereau has already branded a shakedown artist with a pattern of "ensnaring people for money."
At some point soon the two sides will also be sparring over the testimony of Jay Leno, who has been unwittingly drawn into the case. Leno took a call from the accuser in 2000 but hung up, according to Mesereau, when he suspected the mother was using the boy to get him to cover medical expenses. Because he is expected to be called as a witness, Leno has been gagged from speaking about the case. That includes telling jokes about Jackson--so Leno has called on comedians like Brad Garrett and Dennis Miller to come on The Tonight Show for the sole purpose of delivering Jackson gags.
The defense may be planning to throw its own wild card into the witness mix—namely Jackson himself. In his opening statement Mesereau strongly suggested that the singer would take the stand, which could make for even more bizarre courtroom theater. "Michael Jackson is a very odd guy," sighs legal analyst Laurie Levenson. "But the reason people are hesitant to say he did this is because of the question of credibility with this family. I was a federal prosecutor, and I can tell you this case would have worried me a lot."
Bill Hewitt. Ron Arias and Champ Clark in Santa Maria, Lorenzo Benet, Johnny Dodd and Maureen Harrington in L.A., Vickie Bane in Colorado and Karen Nickel Anhalt in Berlin