- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Jurors were given opposing images of Michael Jackson as the pop star’s trial opened yesterday, with the prosecution portraying him as a perverted child molester and the defense as the victim of a con artist who uses her ill son to try to bilk celebrities out of money.

District Attorney Thomas Sneddon outlined a complicated and sometimes bizarre story involving Mr. Jackson’s showing the boy sexually explicit material and groping him and Jackson associates threatening to kill the boy’s mother if he told anyone.

Mr. Sneddon said the boy, now 15, will describe to the jury his sexual experiences with Mr. Jackson and show that the musician’s Neverland Ranch was a devilish lair.

“The private world of Michael Jackson will show that instead of reading them Peter Pan, he’s showing them sexually explicit magazines. … Instead of cookies and milk, you can substitute wine, vodka and bourbon,” he said.

Mr. Jackson sat still as a statue with one hand pressed against his cheek as Mr. Sneddon, whom the pop star has attacked in his music, outlined the accusations.

Two members of Mr. Jackson’s family sat in the front row of the courtroom — mother Katherine and brother Jermaine.

Mr. Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting the then-13-year-old cancer patient at the Neverland Ranch in 2003, plying him with alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive.

After the nearly three-hour opening by the prosecutor, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. went on the attack, saying the mother of the accuser fraudulently told many people that she was destitute and that her son needed money for chemotherapy.

In truth, he said, the boy’s father was a member of a union that covered his medical bills.

Mr. Mesereau said that the mother went to comedian Jay Leno for money and that Mr. Leno was so suspicious that he called Santa Barbara police to tell them that he had been contacted and that “something was wrong. They were looking for a mark.”

The mother also approached comedian George Lopez and a Los Angeles TV weatherman, who staged a fund-raiser for the child at a comedy club, the defense attorney said.

“At the fund-raiser, there was [the boy] in the lobby of the Laugh Factory with his hand out, prodded by” his mother, Mr. Mesereau said.

He said celebrities including boxer Mike Tyson and comedian-actor Jim Carrey turned the family away, but Mr. Jackson was too sympathetic.

“The most vulnerable celebrity became the mark, Michael Jackson,” Mr. Mesereau said.

But the prosecutor said Mr. Jackson had intended to use the boy as part of a comeback attempt by discussing in a television documentary how the singer helped the teen through cancer.

Before the interview with documentary maker Martin Bashir in 2002, Mr. Jackson privately told the boy what to say when he was in front of the camera, Mr. Sneddon said.

When the February 2003 TV documentary “Living With Michael Jackson,” aired, showing the pop star holding hands with the boy and saying he allows children to sleep in his bed, “Jackson’s world was rocked,” Mr. Sneddon said.

He said one of the conspirators described the airing as “a train wreck,” and Mr. Jackson’s associates began a bid to get the family’s help in a public relations campaign to rebut it.

The molestation began a short time later, Mr. Sneddon said.

Mr. Sneddon said Mr. Jackson told the boy that masturbation was normal, then reached into the boy’s underpants and masturbated the boy and himself.

The second event occurred the same way, Mr. Sneddon said, but Mr. Jackson tried to move the boy’s arm toward his own genitals and the boy resisted.

The prosecutor said that when the boy and his family first visited the Neverland Ranch, Mr. Jackson told the boy to ask his mother whether he could sleep in Mr. Jackson’s bedroom. He said Mr. Jackson then showed sexually explicit Web sites to him.

When an image of a woman with bare breasts came on the screen, Mr. Sneddon said, Mr. Jackson said: “Got milk?”

Searches of the Neverland Ranch turned up sexually explicit DVDs and magazines, including 1960s-era periodicals with pictures of naked children, and correspondence from the accuser addressed to “Michael” or “Michael Daddy,” Mr. Sneddon said.

Some magazines had the fingerprints of Mr. Jackson, others had the prints of the boy and his brother, and one had prints from both Mr. Jackson and the accuser, he said.

Before opening statements, Judge Rodney S. Melville read the indictment, revealing for the first time the names of five Jackson employees and associates described as unindicted conspirators.

The indictment charges a series of bizarre activities after the 2003 documentary, including a panicky effort by Jackson employees to get the family of his accuser ready for a trip to Brazil.

It said Jackson employee Frank Tyson told the family that they were in danger and that “this is not the time to be out there alone. This is not the time to turn your back on Michael.”

The indictment said Mr. Tyson also told them, “Staying even one night alone is not safe.”

The indictment stated that between February and March 2003, Mr. Tyson threatened the accuser, telling him, “Michael could make the family disappear” and that he also said, “I could have your mother killed.”

In the indictment, the state says that in February 2003, Mr. Jackson’s staff was instructed in writing not to let the boy leave the Neverland Ranch.

Mr. Jackson’s attorney, meanwhile, suggested a history of fraud by the mother against others including retailer JC Penney, which paid her $152,000 to settle claims stemming from an encounter with security guards when her son left a store with items that had not been paid for.

The mother said that they were battered and held against their will and that she was groped.

Mr. Mesereau said an employee of a law firm that represented the mother in the JC Penney suit has come forward and will testify that the mother admitted lying.

The employee didn’t come forward before because the mother said that she had relatives in the Mexican mafia and that she feared for her life, Mr. Mesereau told the jury.

Mr. Jackson was depicted by his attorney as a humanitarian who built his Neverland Ranch to give children something he never had — a childhood.

He said that an appeal for help by the accuser’s family touched Mr. Jackson’s heart and that “he took time away from his career to help this family, not knowing that the trap was being set.”


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