March 28, 2005
Jackson Judge Allows Prior-Abuse Claims in Trial
March 28, 2005 [Reuters]
By Dan Whitcomb and Alexandria Sage
SANTA MARIA, Calif. (Reuters) - The judge in Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial said on Monday he would allow prosecutors to introduce evidence relating to five previous incidents of alleged abuse by the pop star, in a major defeat for his defense.
Under the ruling, jurors will be allowed to hear testimony about a 1993 case in which the singer paid some $23 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a boy who accused him of sexual abuse.
Defense lawyers had strenuously objected to that testimony, arguing that prosecutors were "desperate" and that their case against Jackson had already fallen apart in court.
Jackson, 46, is accused in a 10-count indictment of plying a then-13-year-old boy with alcohol and molesting him while the youngster and his family were staying at the entertainer's Neverland Valley Ranch in early 2003.
Jackson was never charged in connection with the past accusations. However, prosecutors want to convince jurors that the self-proclaimed "King of Pop" has a pattern of behavior toward young boys -- evidence legal experts say could be devastating to his defense.
After about 90 minutes of sometimes-impassioned arguments on both sides, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville sided with prosecutors. The issue was "of great importance in this case to both sides," he said.
"I'm going to permit testimony with regard to sexual offenses," Melville said.
The judge said he also would permit prosecutors to try to show that the 46-year-old entertainer had a history of "grooming" his alleged victims for abuse by lavishing time and attention on them in order to win their trust.
With jurors out of the courtroom, defense lawyers sought to block such testimony, arguing that prosecutors were trying to bring in a parade of witnesses with grudges against Jackson.
Attorney Tom Mesereau said that a grand jury never returned an indictment against Jackson in the 1993 case and that only one of the alleged prior victims has agreed to take the witness stand.
"You have what is in effect a very problematic case, and I submit the prosecution knows that," Mesereau said.
Jackson's accuser in the current case, along with the boy's brother and sister, had all "lied repeatedly," Mesereau said, adding that the inconsistencies in their testimony would worsen once the accuser's mother took the stand.
District Attorney Tom Sneddon shot back that Jackson's accuser had never wavered under cross-examination.
Mesereau, he said, had been "as abusive, as mean-spirited and obnoxious as you can be to a child witness, and I think it was a remarkable job this kid did. He was never once tripped up about the central fact of the case -- that he was molested."
Jackson, who faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted on all of the counts against him, has pleaded innocent and repeated in a radio interview on Sunday that the charges against him were "totally fabricated."
His lawyers have argued that the mother of Jackson's now 15-year-old accuser invented the abuse claims after latching on to the entertainer in a bid to get money from him.
They also have painted Sneddon as an overzealous prosecutor, intent on taking down Jackson at all costs, especially after his attempt to bring charges a decade earlier failed.
Past abuse claims haunt Jackson
Judge to decide whether to allow previous evidence
March 28, 2005 [Associated Press]
By Tim Malloy
SANTA MARIA - Michael Jackson tried to close the door on a 1993 claim of child molestation when he paid millions to a young accuser, but a court hearing today could resurrect those allegations.
The judge in the pop star's trial will decide whether prosecutors can introduce past claims to show jurors a pattern of abuse.
"It's like a nuclear bomb in this case," said Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor and Fox News analyst. "(Jurors) are trying to do the right thing and if they see two or three kids say the same thing... the odds that they will convict him will go up astronomically."
The jury has been told of the 1993 allegations by a then-13-year-old boy, but the judge has discretion about what details become evidence. He could order testimony from the silenced accuser, and also let prosecutors say if there were other settlements.
NBC's "Dateline" has reported that the singer paid $2 million to the son of an employee at his Neverland Ranch in 1990.
Same attorney used
If earlier allegations are used to show a pattern of behavior, the defense is ready with a counter-argument that the current accuser's family used the 1993 case as a model for a shakedown.
Defense attorneys have already made sure jurors know that both boys had the same attorney, Larry Feldman, and were interviewed by the same psychologist, Dr. Stan J. Katz.
The 1993 accuser declined to cooperate with a criminal investigation of his claims after he received millions of dollars in a civil settlement.
"The defense is saying that was the motivation," said Dana Cole, a defense attorney following the case. "It really does provide the motivation for the family... to do what they're doing if you assume their allegations are false."
Cole, a close friend of Jackson lead attorney Thomas Mesereau who has worked with him on several other molestation cases, said the defense would prefer that the 1993 allegations not be allowed in the current case.
Evidence can be disastrous
Judge Rodney S. Melville denied a defense motion for a mistrial earlier this month filed on the grounds that Jackson's former maid, Kiki Fournier, testified about the singer's close friendships with several 10- to 14-year-old boys who stayed at his Neverland ranch. The boys she mentioned included the 1993 accuser.
Melville said he denied the motion because prosecutors elicited the testimony to establish how much contact Jackson had with the boys, not to suggest any impropriety by Jackson.
California's evidence code allows admission of evidence about past allegations as long as the investigative value outweighs the prejudicial effect it could have on jurors.
In a trial that has already included days of prosecutors showing jurors dozens of adult magazines seized from Jackson's home, the admission of evidence from the 1993 case could create yet another embarrassment.
Investigators photographed Jackson's genitals in an attempt to corroborate the accuser's description of what he said were distinctive markings. If the accuser is called to testify, the photographs could be among the evidence.