Published June 02, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Michael Jackson (search) targets vulnerable boys and brings them "into the world of the forbidden," a prosecutor told jurors Thursday in closing statements of the pop star's child molestation trial.
Firing back, the defense said prosecutors made a "barbaric attempt" to bring Jackson down by emphasizing his financial problems, collection of adult magazines and "sagging music career."
The singer's lawyers were to conclude their closing on Friday, and the prosecution was to deliver a rebuttal before the case goes to the jury. A verdict could come as early as next week.
Jackson, who looked glum as he left court Thursday, told reporters, "I'm OK." He faces more than 20 years in prison if he's convicted of all charges.
Waging a broad attack on Jackson and his defense, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen (search) argued the singer's attorney failed to keep promises made to the jury in opening statements and said the defense's only strategy had been to attack the credibility of the accuser's mother.
"This case is about the exploitation and sexual abuse of a 13-year-old cancer survivor by an international celebrity," Zonen told the eight-woman, four-man jury.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search) countered that the accuser's family consisted of "con artists, actors and liars." He said prosecutors revealed the weakness of their case by attacking him during their closing.
"Whenever a prosecutor does that, you know they're in trouble," Mesereau told the jury, which is expected to get the case on Friday. "This is not a popularity contest between lawyers."
Mesereau also showed charts suggesting it was ridiculous to believe that during a time when Jackson was under international scrutiny he would choose to commit a sex crime.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting the boy in 2003, plying him with wine and conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to rebut the documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," in which Jackson held hands with the boy and said he let children into his bed but it was non-sexual.
Zonen argued for nearly two hours before he even brought up child molestation, focusing first on a complicated conspiracy alleging Jackson sought to hold the accuser's family against their will.
He said it was toward the end of a period in which the accuser and his family stayed at Jackson's Neverland ranch that "the behavior had turned to something terribly illegal."
Zonen said Jackson began giving the boy alcohol and even though his mother at that time was unaware of any molestation, she insisted that her family leave Neverland.
"For all her shortcomings, [the mother], after learning Michael Jackson was giving her son alcohol, in 36 hours she had her children out of there," Zonen said.
Mesereau said the real issue was "whether the accuser's family was credible," and he tore into the prosecutor's claim that the boy's mother wasn't out for money, repeatedly returning to the refrain, "Was she asking for money?"
He noted there was testimony that the mother asked actor Chris Tucker for a truck, that she sued J.C. Penney for allegedly being roughed up by guards and sought welfare right after receiving a $152,000 settlement in the department store lawsuit.
"When she filed for emergency welfare 10 days after getting her [settlement], was she asking for money?" Mesereau asked. "If you do not believe [the family] beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr. Jackson must be acquitted. That's the law."
The prosecutor acknowledged she fraudulently applied for welfare after receiving a large settlement in a lawsuit, but asserted that was the only thing she had been proven to have done wrong in her life.
Zonen told the panel that Jackson has a pattern of going after susceptible boys and when he brings children to his Neverland ranch, he separates them from parents and authority and fills their days with candy, video games and other amusements.
Jackson followed the same "grooming process" with his accuser and the boy's brother, he said.
"At night they entered into the world of the forbidden. They went into Michael Jackson's room, which is a veritable fortress," Zonen said.
He said that in Jackson's room the boys learned about human sexuality "from someone who is only too willing to be their teacher."
Jackson's efforts to lower the boys' inhibitions included showing them pornography, appearing naked before them and simulating a sex act with a mannequin, he said.
Mesereau responded that Jackson wasn't charged with possessing illegal pornography because everything in his home was legal, that no child pornography was found in his home or computers, and that prosecutors used the adult magazines just to make the singer look bad.
"They have dirtied him up because he's human. But they haven't proven their case because they can't," he said.
Mesereau also said the boy was unemotional as he described the alleged molestation in the video and in testimony. "You saw no emotion whatsoever. When did you see him really get angry? When he talked about Michael Jackson abandoning his family," Mesereau said.
The prosecution spent much of the closing statement attacking the defense team's case.
Zonen said Mesereau claimed that the mother was involved in shakedowns of several celebrities including George Lopez and Jay Leno, but he said Lopez testified the boy and his father — not the mother — were involved in a scam involving a wallet purportedly left by the boy at Lopez's home.
The prosecutor said Leno testified that the boy may have called him but the "Tonight Show" host never remembered being asked for money.
Zonen also said Mesereau had told jurors he would show that the mother asked Mike Tyson, Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey for money.
"Did you see any of them come in here?" Zonen said. "There's no evidence she received anything from the three of them."
Zonen said Mesereau also failed to prove that the mother tried to negotiate for money during the making of the rebuttal video and that she tried to use her son's illness to make money.
He acknowledged that the mother received $2,000 from Hamid Moslehi, Jackson's videographer, during the making of the video. But Zonen said Moslehi was to receive $250,000 the next day for his work and others involved were also well-paid.
He said Moslehi was simply helping the mother.
"He recognized the injustice of what was going on," Zonen said. "He readily says that she did not ask for it."
And Zonen ridiculed the idea that the boy's mother could have made up the entire story and prompted her children to lie in order to get wealthy at a future time.
"The suggestion this was all made up is nonsense," he said. "It's unmitigated rubbish."
Zonen depicted Neverland, Jackson's fantasy estate and amusement park, as a place with no rules, no schooling and no discipline for children who stayed there.
"They rode rides, went to the zoo, ate whatever they wanted — candy, ice cream, soda pop. There was only fun. ... And at night they entered into the world of the forbidden. Michael Jackson's room was a veritable fortress with locks and codes which the boys were given ... They learned about sexuality from someone only too willing to be their teacher."
The prosecutor referred to nights when both the boy and his brother stayed in Jackson's room and said the stage was set for molestation.
"It began with discussions of masturbation and nudity. It began with simulating a sex act with a mannequin," Zonen said.
He said Jackson carefully chose the kind of boys he wanted to prey upon.
"The lion on the Serengeti doesn't go after the strongest antelope," Zonen said. "The predator goes after the weakest."
Referring to the boy's testimony, he suggested that the courtroom scared the teenager.
"It was intimidating. It's intimidating for me. ... He had been molested by a man he once held in high regard," Zonen said.
Zonen also projected on a large screen pages from books about male sexuality. Of one of them, he said, "This is a study of what two men are able to do with each other. The pictures are absolutely graphic. This is a publication you are not going to find on anyone's coffee table."
He added, "Are you comfortable with a middle-aged man who possesses this book getting into bed with a 13-year-old boy?"
The prosecutor also showed again heterosexual adult material from Jackson's collection of magazines and said jurors should understand these were part of the scheme to get boys aroused.
"These were not for him," he said. "These were for the boys."
Zonen was defensive in talking about the boy's mother, one of the most erratic witnesses of the trial.
"[She] never asked for one penny from Michael Jackson," he said. "She never desired anything form him and she doesn't today."
Jackson walked slowly into the Santa Maria courthouse on Thursday, looking somber on the day that closing arguments were to begin in his child-molestation trial.
He arrived with his parents to screams from supporters, mainly young women, who were particularly vocal Thursday, standing out in the rain without umbrellas.
Jackson, in a dark coat and plaid vest, acknowledged them with a wave.
FOX News legal analyst Stan Goldman said they were there to support Jackson on a day that is going to be very important in the case.
"I think whoever can tie everything together, point the jury in their direction, will win. It's a 50-50 toss of the coin [whether Jackson will be] locked in jail or go back to Neverland still a multimillionaire and free," Goldman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.