January 28, 2005
Judge rules that child accuser must face Michael Jackson in court
January 28, 2005 [Associated Press]
SANTA MARIA, United States (AFP) - The teenage boy who accused pop icon Michael Jackson of child abuse must face the superstar in open court, a judge ruled.
Judge Rodney Melville made the critical decision over prosecutors' objections in the last pre-trial hearing ahead of Monday's official start of the trial of one of the most famous people ever to face justice on such serious criminal charges.
But while ruling that the 15-year-old alleged victim and his 14-year-old brother must testify in open court instead of from behind closed doors, Melville warned he would not tolerate any intimidation of the children.
"Whether I keep an open courtroom will depend on what happens during their testimony," Melville said, warning he would tolerate no "hand gestures, mutterings" or any other expressions towards the children from the gallery.
"It is critical there be no disruption in their testimony," he told the rival lawyers in the case after Jackson's lawyers won their bid to force the boys to testify in open court.
The boy alleged to authorities that Jackson had sexually molested him on several occasions in early 2003 at Neverland Ranch, near the California town of Santa Maria where the legal proceedings are taking place.
Prosecutors claim in their charges against the pop star that the boy's younger brother witnessed two of the alleged incidents and will call both boys to testify about the alleged incidents.
Prosecutors had moved to shield the boys from the glare of publicity when they take the witness stand, but Jackson's attorneys said it was unfair for the accusers to give evidence via an audio feed from a closed room while Jackson, 46, had to face the world's scrutiny.
Prosecutor Gordon Auchincloss told Melville that the boys would be stigmatised and shamed by their testimony if it was given in front of the press and public.
He said the brothers and their family already changed their schools, their names and had been forced to "hide out" since their intimate allegations first made world headlines in November 2003.
"The shame involved in a child consenting to these acts is unbelievable, Auchincloss said, claiming Jackson had bought the boys' silence through gifts and other alleged wiles.
"To anyone who thinks we should put these young boys in the path of this train, I ask how would you feel if it was your child?" he said.
But Jackson's chief lawyer Thomas Mesereau disputed the portrayal of the boys as being vulnerable victims in need of the court's protection, suggesting that the motive for the claims against Jackson was financial.
"They are in their mid-teens and are not tiny little children. They are not the little lambs the prosecutor says they are," Mesereau said rebuffing Auchincloss's argument.
He stressed that every aspect of Jackson's life had come under scrutiny since his November 2003 arrest, so it was fair that those who first made the claims against the singer should be made to do so in public.
"At least let Michael Jackson, who is on trial in a public proceeding, confront his accusers in a public proceeding," Mesereau told the judge.
Jackson has denied 10 charges, including child molestation and an alleged plot to kidnap and falsely imprison the boy and his family. His trial starts with jury selection on Monday.
Posted by Nancy at January 28, 2005 07:28 PM