Jackson Trial: Taking a Hit
On March 28, over the strenuous protests of the defense, Judge Rodney Melville ruled that prosecutors could introduce evidence that Michael Jackson had molested or inappropriately touched five other children in the past. It was a bombshell decision that could alter the course of Jackson's trial. Some key questions:
Why was the ruling so important?
Normally allegations of past crimes are off-limits in trials. But in 1995 the California legislature enacted a controversial law allowing for an exception: sexual-abuse cases. The reasoning was that those crimes often cannot be proved in any other way. "This sort of crime is almost always done in secret," says USC law professor Jean Rosenbluth. "By allowing this testimony, the prosecution intends to show that Jackson had a pattern of this behavior."
Who are the five, and will they testify?
There are two boys who have settled with Jackson—one out of court reportedly for $20 million in 1993 and the other, the son of a former Jackson maid, for $2.4 million in 1994; two Australians; and actor Macaulay Culkin. So far only the maid's son will actually take the stand. But prosecutor Tom Sneddon has said that he will introduce third-party witnesses who will testify about Jackson's behavior with the other alleged victims—among them several who will supposedly talk about the singer's inappropriate behavior with Culkin. "They are only bringing in one victim," points out defense attorney Michael Cardoza. "They better have a good explanation for not bringing those other four in."
Aren't Jackson and Culkin friends?
Yes. Culkin, now 24, has been a Jackson buddy since he was a child and has adamantly denied that the singer ever abused him. "Nothing happened," Culkin told Larry King on CNN last May. (Two of the other four have also denied they were molested by Jackson.) But it is possible that several of the five cases, including Culkin's, will reveal ways in which Jackson allegedly "groomed" youngsters for possible abuse.
What does this do to Jackson's case?
"I've never seen an acquittal when pattern evidence comes in a sexual-abuse case," says legal analyst Anne Bremner. But Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. is expected to point out that the former Jackson maid also sold her story to a television tabloid show, and he has vowed to subject each of the other cases to a rigorous defense. Says law professor Rosenbluth: "I still think this is a tough case for the prosecution."
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