Debbie Rowe, Hamid Moslehi, Cynthia Ann Bell, Janet Arvizo. Especially Janet Arvizo. They're just a few of the witnesses who've backfired for the prosecution in their case against Michael Jackson. Rarely have so many state's witnesses turned out to be bonuses for the defense.
Now comes word that the defense has a blockbuster revelation for the jury in Santa Maria that should really kick the props out from underneath the district attorney's wobbly case: The idea to have the Arvizo family to fly to Miami in February 2003 was not Michael Jackson's at all. It was comedian Chris Tucker's.
For a year and a half now, we've heard the same story over and over: Michael Jackson summoned the Arvizo family to Miami for a press conference on Feb. 6, 2003. The family said they were picked up by Jackson's limo driver, Gary Hearne, for a commercial flight to Miami. Then they were told at the last minute that a change had been made, and that they would fly with Tucker on a private plane. The family has claimed that they were supposed to take part in a press conference when they arrived.
So far no one has asked why Tucker was involved, who rented the plane, or whose idea any of this was. Also unexplained is what happened to the press conference: Why didn't it happen? Why did no one mention it again? If Janet Arvizo was right, and she had to memorize lines for a video, why wasn't she given a script or any information about the press conference once she arrived in Miami? How did this whole misadventure in February, 2003 between Michael Jackson and the Arvizo family begin?
Here are some of the answers that will be spilling out as Jackson's team prepares to launch a defense in the next week.
According to my sources, the trip to Miami was not Jackson's idea at all. It was Tucker's. Here's what went down, from what we can piece together: Tucker — who'd met the Arvizos through Jamie Masada's comedy camp — will testify that the Arvizos called him on or around Feb. 5, 2003, frantic to find Jackson.
According to the testimony of Janet Arvizo's husband, Jay Jackson, two British tabloid reporters turned up in their apartment building on Feb. 4, the morning after "Living with Michael Jackson" aired in Britain. Jay Jackson testified to negotiating with the reporters for a fee.
In the end, however, the reporters will say that when they returned with a contract for Jackson and the Arvizos, the family was gone. What happened?
We can surmise at this point that Jay Jackson or Janet Arvizo placed a call to Tucker, thinking he could connect them with Michael. This was perhaps to have their silence bought. Arvizo told Tucker that she was desperate to get in touch with Jackson.
The family had had no contact with him since the one day documentary shoot in September 2002. Jackson had even changed his phone numbers. In short order, Tucker called Jackson in Miami. "You'll never guess who's here," he said.
Tucker will testify that he had already booked a private plane to Orlando, where he has a home. He was on his way to the NBA All-Star game in Atlanta, where he has yet another residence. His brother was set to meet him there.
But all of a sudden things changed. Tucker, stuck now with the Arvizos, suggested to Jackson that he could bring the family to Miami and leave them there. And that's what he did.
On the stand, Janet Arvizo complained that Tucker was put in a different part of the Turnberry Isle Hotel when they all arrived the next day. That may have been because Tucker hadn't planned on spending the night in Miami at all.
After Tucker hung up the phone, Jackson's people scrambled to get the family and Tucker rooms in the hotel. It was all, I am told, incredibly unplanned, unscripted, and off the cuff.
Much of this can be underscored, I am told, by notes kept by Jackson's top aide Evvy Tavasci. Contrary to Janet Arvizo's statements, Tavasci never made travel arrangements for the family to go to Miami or even to be picked up by Hearne.
So much for the theory that Jackson and his managers masterminded a plot to bring the family to Florida. And the press conference? No one — not Tucker, his friend Brett Ratner, Jackson's staff — has ever had any idea where that came from.
There was no press conference ever scheduled," says my source. "It may have just been something in Janet Arvizo's mind."
That is less strange than it sounds, since no preparation was ever made for a press conference. And it would have been easier, my source argues, for Jackson simply to return home and have a press conference with the Arvizos in Los Angeles, rather than fly them all to Miami and then back again in less than 48 hours. And there's proof that Jackson was already set to return from Miami on Feb. 7. He had an appointment with Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes."
I am told that not only can Tucker attest to the general validity of this scenario, but so too can his ex-fiancee, Azja Pryor, and "Rush Hour" director Ratner. There may be others as well.
And when this story unravels on the stand, my sources insist, it will fill in the blanks about why the Arvizos went to Miami. If it's true — and I have reason to believe it is — the underpinnings of the conspiracy case will be kicked out for good.
Greek director Constantine Costa-Gavras is not a household name. But he's the pre-eminent director of such classics as "Missing," "Hanna K," "Betrayed," "The Music Box," "Z" and "State of Siege." He made a rare appearance at Elaine's last night, dining with Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn. No one's saying why, but cineastes put down their forks when they saw him come in.
At another table, director James Toback, while Andy Rooney had another corner. Marisa Berenson was in the center area near mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark, and jazz legend Dave Brubeck "took five" in the rear corner. It seems everyone does come to Elaine's.
Meanwhile, very few people in the conscious world seem to believe for a minute that Katie Holmes of "Dawson's Creek" fame is dating Tom Cruise. And I do mean nobody.
Each has a movie in release soon — surprise! — so it's no wonder they want publicity. But I am sort of shocked that Holmes would agree to this bit of old time Hollywood flackery. She doesn't need it. Cruise, on the other hand, has now become expert at staging "accidental" photo ops with loved ones when he has a project ready.
Don't miss Rosie O'Donnell and Andie McDowell on Sunday night in Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Riding the Bus with My Sister." Rosie rocks...
In my column on Monday, I incorrectly stated that Ron Burkle is the owner of Kroger Stores. Burkle is not the owner. In 1998 he merged his vast supermarket holdings with Kroger and received $12.6 billion. He assumed the position as head of the executive committee of the Kroger board of directors, a role he recently relinquished.