It's now time to stop the madness and declare a mistrial in California vs. Jackson. What happened on Friday in the Santa Maria courthouse should not have happened at all. Whether or not Michael Jackson is guilty of child molestation is no longer the issue.
The Santa Barbara District Attorney's office is now potentially guilty of exploiting a disturbed woman's condition to get a conviction. It's wrong, and it's not going to achieve anything but tarnishing the reputations of their well-intentioned staff.
The testimony on Friday of Janet Arvizo, mother of Michael Jackson's teenage accuser, was alternately maddening and heart breaking. She came across on the stand during her cross-examination by Thomas Mesereau as a compulsive and pathological liar, a shrewd manipulator and a real operator.
But she was also quite sad, and unable to control her emotions. At one point she declared in an aside, "I now know that Neverland is a place for booze, pornography, and sex with little boys." The statement was immediately stricken from the record.
In fact, Arvizo may have really alienated an already shell-shocked jury. Mesereau played a video made by Jackson's associates in February 2003 in which Arvizo and her three children sang the pop star's praises as a father figure. Arvizo's appearance in the video was in stark contrast to the woman on the stand. In the film she is glamorous, with a winning smile and laugh. She resembles a darker complected version of Meg Ryan.
But the woman on the stand now, who had to take questions every few minutes, is about 25 pounds heavier and stripped of her bubbly determination. Two years and two different people. It was startling.
Then again, neither of these two Janet Arvizos resembles the one on a police interview tape leaked to a TV show last winter. That makes three Janets, and there are probably more to come.
The Janet Arvizo who testified on Friday was close to the one described to me a year ago, and about whom I've been reporting on since then. She was feisty and obnoxious, manipulative and cunning.
She did not shrink from fights with Mesereau. She often addressed the jury directly instead of answering Mesereau's questions, and didn't seem to care how Judge Rodney Melville instructed her. Her hubris was her undoing, and it was magnificent and tragic.
She had sharp recollections of things that interested her and no memories of dates, times, or places that could undermine her case. She couldn't recall, for example, how much money her children or ex-husband received in their settlement from JC Penney. She also could not remember how she met a Los Angeles police officer, how they became friends, or if he once gave her a ride in his car.
She couldn't remember how many times she'd discussed the current case with her lawyer, Larry Feldman, the same man who secured a $20 million settlement for another Jackson accuser in 1993.
Building on a theme she started Thursday concerning Jackson's group as "masters of choreography," Arvizo nearly stopped court entirely when Mesereau brought up a visit she made to a Los Olivos salon while staying at Neverland.
First they tussled over whether she received a "body wax" or a "leg wax." She insisted it was the latter, and also claimed she'd paid for it. That was a mistake. Mesereau, of course, had the receipt for $140, which showed multiple beauty treatments including leg, bikini and lip waxing, and a manicure. "Do you want to see the receipt?" Mesereau offered.
Arvizo refused, claiming that he'd somehow changed it. It was another example of what she termed the Jackson team's masterful "choreography."
"Who paid for it?" Mesereau demanded. Arvizo refused to answer several times, finally claiming: "I don't know." She also said it was all a plot to enhance Jackson's P.R.
There was more. It seemed endless, and painful. Mesereau walked her through the "rebuttal video," an interview with her and her three children that wasn't finished in time to be included in a Jackson TV special. Even though all four members of the family seem relaxed and spontaneous, Arvizo insisted over and over again it was scripted.
When this position became ludicrous to maintain, she refused to back down. Instead, she embellished the story. "Dieter [Wiesner] worked with me on it ten times a day so I could memorize the lines. I was acting!" she declared continuously, speaking of Jackson's former manager.
Wiesner, she said, wrote every word of it, despite the fact that he's German, has a poor command of English, and had no contact with Arvizo — by her admission — after about a week.
There wasn't a single person in the room who believed her.
The rebuttal video may also have proven her a liar. On it, she makes reference several times to the Martin Bashir special, "Living with Michael Jackson."
In an outtake, she instructs the video director to "make it like in Bashir," i.e. showing her clasping hands with her son: a very specific image. But Arvizo, her new husband and her kids have insisted in all their testimony thus far that she has never seen the documentary.
What was most striking, though, about Arvizo's video performance was her incredible disloyalty to her then boyfriend, now husband, retired US Army Major Jay Jackson.
Even though Jackson was supporting her and her kids at the time of the rebuttal video, Arvizo pretended he didn't exist. Over and over in the video she and her children praised Jackson as a father figure who'd completed their family.
Their compliments could not have been more effusive or sycophantic, and they were all the more creepy considering they had a real father figure at home. Never mind that their biological father was a convicted abuser whom the mother has accused of everything short of sinking the Andrea Doria.
The worst moment came right before court was recessed for the weekend. It was then that Arvizo, who'd shown us high and low moments of great extremes, finally burst into tears, though not because she thought her son had been molested by Michael Jackson. It was because she conceded that she did not accompany her husband to Army functions.
"I'm not smart enough to be with those people," she said, and sobbed. Even Jackson and his mother, Katherine, must have felt for this woman. Abused, destroyed, mentally broken, there is nothing left to her. More cross-examination on Monday seems almost beside the point. She needs help.
And then there was District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who sat not with the other prosecutors during this brutal performance, but on a bench behind them. In full view of the jury, Sneddon sat with his head often in his hands, looking askance at what he's wrought. Sneddon has devoted the last twelve years to proving Jackson is a child molester, but he chose the wrong case and the wrong people to close his deal.
That was clearly conveyed to the jury on Friday. The whole thing is mind-boggling. But for Sneddon to continue the public torture of this battered soul would be worse than trying to finish the case. His one chance for redemption is to call a halt to this nightmare before it gets worse. That will ensure him a better legacy than the one he may have created for himself.
Michael Jackson's publicist Raymone Bain issued a denial yesterday concerning our story about Jackson selling off most of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, aka the Beatles catalog, to save himself from financial ruin.
Well, we're sticking by this story. It can be argued that Bain, who lives and works in Washington, D.C., has no idea what's up with Jackson's finances. She certainly knows nothing of his trial.
Bank sources reconfirmed for me yesterday that the deal described in this column is now on the table. And if Jackson doesn't take it, he will likely have a perilous financial dilemma on his hands next week.