- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) — The defense rested in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial yesterday without putting the pop star on the stand, wrapping up after a surprisingly short three weeks devoted mostly to portraying the accuser’s mother as a shakedown artist.

Jurors could get the case as early as the middle of next week to decide whether Mr. Jackson should be convicted of molesting a teenage cancer patient at his Neverland ranch in 2003.

Defense attorneys portrayed Mr. Jackson as the victim of false charges that surfaced once the boy’s mother realized she was being weaned from a lavish lifestyle that the singer had financed. A series of witnesses testified that the mother was a grifter who hit up celebrities for money and defrauded others.

The defense took three weeks to attack a case that prosecutors spent nearly 10 weeks building. The defense case initially was projected to last up to eight weeks.

Mr. Jackson didn’t take the stand, as defense attorneys had hinted at the trial’s start, and only a few of the celebrities who were on the list of possible witnesses ended up in court. Absent were Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Kobe Bryant, among others, but those who took the stand included Macaulay Culkin, Jay Leno and Chris Tucker.

Mr. Tucker, a comedian and star of the “Rush Hour” movies, was the final defense witness. He told jurors yesterday that he found the accuser to be unusually sophisticated and cunning for a 12-year-old after meeting the boy at a benefit while the child was battling cancer in 2001.

Mr. Tucker said his suspicions about the family set in when they came to the set of a movie he was filming in Las Vegas and refused to leave. He said he paid for their hotel and expenses but after several weeks they were still there.

“I was getting nervous,” he said. “I thought, ‘I need to watch myself,’ because I’m high-profile and sometimes when people see what you’ve got they try to take advantage of you. I had to pull back.”

Prosecutors had cast Mr. Jackson, 46, as a serial pedophile with a history of fondling boys, including the cancer survivor, who was 13, in February or March 2003 at Neverland. Mr. Jackson also is charged with giving the boy alcohol and conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to rebut a documentary in which the entertainer says he let children into his bed for innocent sleepovers.

The defense called 50 witness in all, including Mr. Culkin and two other young men who testified that Mr. Jackson never behaved inappropriately when they stayed at his Neverland ranch home as children.

Without ever taking the stand, Mr. Jackson remained the star of the defense case.

He spoke to jurors through a nearly three-hour videotape that included scenes left out of the documentary “Living With Michael Jackson” in which the singer mentioned sleeping with children.

In the defense video, Mr. Jackson said his feelings for children were innocent and loving.

“I haven’t been betrayed or deceived by children,” he said at one point. “Adults have let me down.”

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