The prosecution put on two witnesses yesterday in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, each determined to demolish the defense. At first their plan looked good. But then defense attorney Tom Mesereau came twirling on to the court, and the rest is history.
Mesereau’s big moment came at 9:35 a.m. PDT. With 10 minutes to go before the first break in the morning session, Mesereau knew that he had to act fast to counter allegations from former Neverland security guard Ralph Chacon. These included two instances of child molestation described in graphic detail by Chacon.
The episodes were so intense and unsavory that they sent Jackson’s mother Katherine Jackson fleeing from the courtroom.
That left only brother Tito Jackson to stand by the pop star during perhaps his worst-ever moments in a courtroom. (Father Joseph Jackson was in Las Vegas, according to sources, on business.)
Mesereau had no time to waste. The jury, the judge, the press and public had just heard Chacon peel off what might have been a scenario from a porn novel issued by the National Man Boy Love Association.
Chacon said that he saw Jackson perform oral sex on a boy, among other upsetting things.
When Chacon described a second episode, in which Jackson was “passionately kissing” the boy in front of a Peter Pan display, even Tito vacated the courtroom.
Prosecutor Tom Sneddon asked Chacon why he’d never mentioned the latter incident in previous depositions.
“Who would believe me?” Chacon responded. For a minute, the answer was everyone. The shock of his vulgar description was just enough to get the attention of all in the room.
But then came Mesereau, driving hard down the court like Michael Jordan.
Armed with Chacon’s deposition from the 1994 “Neverland Five” case, in which former Jackson employees unsuccessfully sued the singer for wrongful termination and harassment, Mesereau didn’t take long to make mincemeat of the witness.
Suddenly Chacon’s every answer was “I don’t know” when Mesereau plied him for details of the famous lawsuit, the longest civil trial in Santa Maria history.
“The jury said you stole and acted with malice,” said Mesereau. “There was a judgment against you for fraud. Do you recall stipulating that that you acted with fraud, oppression and malice?”
Suddenly Chacon, who claimed to have a clear memory of seeing Jackson in an incriminating situation, could not remember a thing.
He couldn’t recall the exact amount each defendant in the dismissal case was ordered to pay Jackson ($1.4 million), or a judgment against Chacon in another case ($2,600), or his telling a doctor that he’d rather get $1 million than work again.
Even when Mesereau, in a flamboyant but familiar lawyerly move, showed him his contradictory depositions from a year ago, Chacon was flummoxed.
Did he remember his lawyer saying he wanted $16 million for the five former employees?
"No," said Chacon. Mesereau showed him his deposition. The ex-security guard, now a substitute teacher, had an epiphany. “Now I see it,” he declared.
Did Chacon recall saying in his deposition that Jackson used to stare continuously at him? That he stared at no one else? The witness, in a rare moment of clarity, explained: “I said it just to say it.”
Those 10 minutes were perhaps the most crucial in Jackson’s life.
Things went just as badly for former personal maid Adrian McManus. Even though her appearance and demeanor were a marked improvement over Chacon's, her forceful testimony was quickly cut to shreds by Mesereau.
At one point, jurors started looking around the room rather than pay attention to her. This happened after the umpteenth time Mesereau -- by now riffing on the “may I refresh your memory by showing you that page from your deposition routine?” -- sauntered over to the witness stand, book in hand.
McManus should have been a reliable, prepared witness. Mesereau got her to admit she’d had a three-hour meeting with prosecutors on Wednesday night. But even under direct questioning, her natural bubbly personality had been supplanted by somber tones.
And it didn’t help that Mesereau knew a lot of dirt about her past. He avoided any reference to her direct testimony that she claimed she’d seen four boys -- including Macaulay Culkin -- share Jackson’s bed. Instead, he pounced on her personal credibility.
Among McManus’s “secrets”: She and her husband were sued by their sister-in-law, who won a judgment against them of $30,584.89. The crime? They “willfully and maliciously defrauded” the woman’s children after her husband died when they served as their guardians.
In the Jackson dismissal case, Mesereau revealed that McManus had stolen an ink drawing of Elvis Presley by Jackson and sold it -- her contribution to the “fraud, oppression and malice” part of the case that included fellow former employees Chacon, Melanie Bagnall, Sandi Domz and Kassim Abdool.
Part of what Mesereau was able to establish with McManus and Chacon was their unwillingness to work with or for Jackson’s new security team appointed in 1994.
Called The Office of Special Services, or “OSS,” the internal Neverland outfit was run by longtime Jackson crony Bill Bray.
Fearing disloyalty after the Chandler scandal broke in 1993, Bray brought in his own security force to run roughshod over the Neverland staff.
The result is much as it is presently at Neverland -- fear and loathing rules, with no one in charge. It’s a management style made for disaster.
McManus’ final half-hour on the stand was almost painful. She was reminded of a statement she’d made in a deposition about the alarm system for Jackson’s bedroom: “When you’re a celebrity, you lead a difficult life. People kill celebrities. That little sensor benefits him for his life.”
She also admitted to having lied in the Chandler v. Jackson civil suit a decade ago. In that case she claimed she’d never seen any kids sleeping in Jackson’s room. She also said in that that June Chandler, the mother of the kid who eventually got a $20 million settlement from Jackson, had brought her son’s clothes to Jackson’s room, knowing full well he’d be staying there.
Mesereau said: “You’re saying you committed perjury in the Chandler deposition?”
McManus: “The whole time [I lied].”
Mesereau: “Knowing that it was a crime?”
McManus: “I didn’t think of it that way.”
By then, the jury had long forgotten about Chacon’s pornographic musings.
Jennifer Lopez’s album "Rebirth" is a super dud.
The CD is number 20 this week, with about 750,000 copies sold so far and no hit singles.
Maybe it’s time Lopez gave up this weird experiment and left the singing to people who can, like … Garland Jeffreys, who brings his hot show to B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on 42nd St. in New York City tomorrow night at 8 p.m. EDT.
This is a don’t-miss deal. Don’t complain to me later…
Nile Rodgers and Nancy Hunt’s We Are Family Foundation has its annual dinner and show on April 18 at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Nile and his famous band Chic will perform, along with the B-52's. Should be quite a night. Peter Gabriel and Maya Angelou are being honored for their world charity achievements…
Jane Fonda’s mesmerizing memoir, "My Life So Far," is already number 5 on Amazon.com after three full days of orders. Considering that Fonda’s publicity week fell during the pope’s memorial, it’s a pretty major accomplishment…
"It’s All Gone, Pete Tong" is a new film about hot Brit deejay Frankie Wilde. It just won Best Actor and Best Feature at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. It opens nationwide next month…
Finally: Condolences to Mary Tyler Moore. Her beloved Aunt Bertie recently passed away at age 91. Aunt Bertie was not only the model for Aunt Flo (Eileen Heckhart) on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," but Moore told me she was also her own role model as well.
It was Aunt Bertie who encouraged Moore to get into acting, paid for all her lessons and gave her the courage to have a career.
As I lost my beloved great uncle yesterday, Walter Zimmerman, two months shy of 97, I can relate. May they both shine on infinitely…