- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) — As the Michael Jackson child-molestation trial moves into its final stages, closing arguments could prove more decisive here than in many other trials.

Prosecution and defense attorneys will tell two different stories, trying to convince jurors that Mr. Jackson is either a predatory pedophile and self-involved celebrity or a humanitarian who tried to aid a cancer-stricken boy but was victimized by scheming grifters.

Loyola University Law Professor Laurie Levenson, who has attended the trial, said closing arguments would be critical.

“Neither side was able to dominate the trial enough to be confident in what the verdict will be,” she said.

Mr. Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting the 13-year-old boy in February or March 2003, giving him wine, and then conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to rebut a damaging documentary, “Living With Michael Jackson.”

The prosecution rebuttal case wound up Friday with jurors seeing a videotape of the accuser’s July 6, 2003, interview with police. The defense then rested without calling any rebuttal witnesses. Judge Rodney S. Melville gave jurors the day off today while lawyers discuss jury instructions.

In closing arguments that could begin as early as tomorrow, prosecutors will paint Mr. Jackson as a manipulative molester, a weird-looking celebrity who thinks he is immune from the rules that govern normal conduct.

The defense has taken the tack of embracing Mr. Jackson’s odd appearance and lifestyle and is likely to argue that he should not be penalized for being different.

Defense lawyers will remind jurors that although Mr. Jackson did not testify, they heard him sharing details of his difficult childhood and his desire to make children happy with his Neverland amusement park.

The defense will seek to demonize the accuser and his family, as well as those they contend fell for the family’s story. They will say there are financial motives everywhere.

Prosecutors are relying not just on this case, but on a series of accusations made against the star 12 to 15 years ago. They will suggest he got away with molestation before and wants to get away with it again.

Prosecutors are expected to say — as they did in opening statements — that Mr. Jackson was a star on the skids trying to resurrect his image by granting access to an interviewer who then skewered him with his own words in the documentary.

On that video, the world saw the boy who would become his accuser holding Mr. Jackson’s hand and resting his head on the pop star’s shoulder.

The show raised a storm of controversy because of Mr. Jackson’s acknowledgment that he allowed children to sleep in his bed, though he said the encounters were entirely innocent.

The defense will remind jurors that the boy took acting lessons, has been described as cunning and shrewd, and said that Mr. Jackson broke his heart by rejecting him as a friend. They will say this is a case of revenge.

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