There's a smoking gun in the Michael Jackson child-abuse case, but it's not going to help the prosecution.
An audiotape made by private investigator Brad Miller on or around Feb. 20, 2003, may solve the whole case.
On the tape, Miller — working for Jackson defense attorney Mark Geragos — interviews the 13-year-old boy now accusing Jackson of impropriety. Also interviewed are the boy's brother, sister and mother.
This tape, I'm told, is the reason behind all those closed-door arguments among the lawyers in the case and the subject of Judge Rodney Melville's sealing of evidence. The tape, and a lot of documents that have nothing to do with Jackson, were found in a police raid on Miller's office the same day cops charged into Neverland last November.
That's the problem. Miller's lawyer, as well as Jackson's, claim that Miller worked for Geragos and not for Jackson, making Miller part of the defense team — and everything in his office thus off-limits to prosecutors.
I'm told that the search warrant against Miller, however, incorrectly stated that he was Jackson's employee.
Miller has had to hire his own legal representation because, he's told friends, many of the items confiscated by the Santa Barbara police in that November raid are files pertaining to other clients, not to Jackson.
But it's what's on the tape that all the lawyers are fighting about.
Miller, under instructions from Geragos, interviewed the family members about their relationships with Jackson. He asked them a lot of questions, including whether or not there had been any sexual misconduct. The answers, I'm told, were emphatically "no."
Prosecutors may suggest the three were coerced or forced to read from a script. But it appears they were not alone during the taping session. Major Jay Jackson, the boy's mother's boyfriend, was with them the whole time, my sources say.
"If Jay Jackson didn't like what they were being asked, he could have said something," one source says. "He didn't."
It's a big issue that the prosecutors are in possession of this tape. Under the law, they are not allowed to listen to it until the judge rules whether or not it's part of the defense. But District Attorney Tom Sneddon may have listened to it. (No one from the prosecutor's office will comment on this or any other part of the Jackson case, invoking the court's gag order.)
The tape may also play into the ever-shifting timeline in the Jackson case. When Sneddon filed charges against Jackson, he alleged that the child molestation took place between Feb. 7 and March 10 of 2003. Later, when he re-filed, the dates were changed: Feb. 20 to March 12, 2003.
"That's because the tape was made later, around February 16 or 18," says my source. "Also, that's when the family was interviewed by the Los Angeles child-welfare people. Sneddon is trying to re-set the time line so it all matches."
An interviewer from the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services spoke to the family during the same week they made the tape. I'm told the same answers came back — nothing untoward had happened.
Sneddon, it's suggested, had to change the dates of the charges so that they began after the tape was made and the interview was conducted.
"And we're to believe that Michael, knowing about the tape and the interview, then decided to molest the kid," my source says incredulously.
There's more. Initially, we were led to believe that Jackson's managers, Dieter Wiesner and Ronald Konitzer, hired Geragos in January 2003 before any of this started.
We were told that they did this with an eye toward suing Sony Music over Jackson's situation with the company. It was supposedly only a coincidence that Geragos was on duty when the family of the accuser needed handling.
Now, however, I am told by an eyewitness that Wiesner and Konitzer didn't retain Geragos until right after the Martin Bashir television special "Living With Michael Jackson" aired on ABC on Feb. 7, 2003.
According to my source, Wiesner and Konitzer immediately suspected that the family was going to become a problem once the special aired.
"They wanted to be paid for being in it," my source said. "When they weren't, it became an issue."
Geragos kept a vigilant eye on the family even when it was being chaperoned by Jackson's employees. For example, he paid at least one month's rent on the family's East Los Angeles apartment.
"They were going to be evicted," says a source, "and he thought it was the right thing to do."
He also assigned a "watcher" named Johnny who worked for Miller to keep an eye on them during a four- or five-day stay at the Hotel Calabasas about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
"He [Johnny] was there to keep the press away," says my source.
Prosecutors have hinted that the Hotel Calabasas stay was a type of incarceration. But defense sources say they have evidence that the family went to the movies, ate at an Outback Steakhouse and was free to come and go.
The family was eventually moved out of its apartment and all its belongings put in storage. The conspiracy component of the Jackson indictment suggests that this was done against their wishes.
But my source insists, "They wanted it. The mother said she wanted her apartment cleaned out and everything thrown away. She said she was starting a new life with Jay."
The Jackson team made sure it chronicled everything that happened.
"All the contents of that apartment were videotaped. We weren't going to have them say something was missing later," my source says.
Phoebe Brand Carnovsky died yesterday. You don't know her name, but Phoebe — who was a spry 97 years old — was a famous acting teacher and actress, a founding member of the legendary Group Theater in the 1930s. She was the widow of the great Shakespearean actor Morris Carnovsky.
In the 1950s, the Carnovskys' lives were ruined when director Elia Kazan named them as Communists in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Kazan named 10 people altogether in order to save his own skin, including writers Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett and Clifford Odets.
Carnovsky was called before the committee, but he invoked the Fifth Amendment. He was dismissed and the couple was blacklisted. Unable to work in Hollywood, the two turned to the theater, where they became legends.
If not for Carnovsky's act of courage, and Kazan's act of cowardice, the couple might have become Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Carnovsky was as well regarded, if not better, than Laurence Olivier for his performances in Shakespeare plays.
Brand talked about her early politicization in the 1930s when I last saw her five years ago.
"We were progressives," she said. "In those days it was a time of great unionization. The Wobblies were a very radical unionizing group who were killed," referring to the famous union group which took on the Arizona copper-mining companies in 1917.
"We thought you had to have unions," Brand said. "We started Equity and the CIO. There were sit-in strikes. Gangsters owned New York City. So you had to do something. You had to see a way out. So many, many people were radical. Especially people in the theater. It was the only way at that time that we could see a future, whether it's the right one or wrong one."
Brand wound up making just one movie in her whole life — Louis Malle's "Vanya on 42nd St" in 1994. It was the price she paid for integrity. She was not opposed to actors speaking their minds, by the way.
"I've always admired Susan Sarandon," she told me. "People have to say what they believe. You have to fight for what you think is right. Otherwise, what are you? Nothing."
It is with great sadness that I report the untimely death of singer-songwriter Syreeta Wright.
Stevie Wonder's first wife (1970-72) and long-time collaborator was 58. She died after a long fight with cancer.
Syreeta's voice is well known to pop-radio listeners. Her biggest hit was "With You I'm Born Again," a duet with Billy Preston.
Syreeta was also a great lyricist, writing several hits with Stevie, including "I Was Made to Love Her," "Blame It On the Sun," "If You Really Love Me," "Signed, Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)" and the Spinners' immortal classic, "It's A Shame."
She was so good that Berry Gordy wanted her to replace Diana Ross when Ross left the Supremes, but Wright declined.
Stevie was married to her more than 30 years ago, but he recently asked audiences to pray for her, and they remained very friendly to the end. Rest in peace, Syreeta.