Published June 03, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Michael Jackson's (search) child molestation case has been given to the jury, which could reach a verdict determining the pop star's fate as early as next week.
They deliberated Friday afternoon for about two hours but stopped to go home for the weekend shortly before 3 p.m. PDT (6 p.m. EDT).
After 14 weeks of hearing testimony from more than 130 witnesses, including the now-15-year-old accuser and actor Macaulay Culkin (search), the panel of eight women and four men was ordered to begin deliberations earlier Friday on the 10-count indictment against the "King of Pop."
They were given 98 pages of instructions to guide them. If convicted, Jackson could face up to 20 years behind bars
Judge Rodney S. Melville (search) told Jackson he could stay at his Neverland ranch residence during deliberations, but attorneys would have to stay within 10 minutes of the courthouse in case the jury has questions that need to be addressed.
Melville asked if one hour would be sufficient time for Jackson to arrive, but added, "If you are slightly delayed I would rather be slightly delayed than have you rush too fast." The judge also said the media would be notified an hour before the announcement of the verdict.
As the jury began what could be a very long process, they were possibly trying to cut the tension with some comic relief — loud, long laughter was heard from the jury room at the beginning of deliberations.
The jury got the case after the prosecution concluded its rebuttal to the defense's closing arguments.
In his rebuttal, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen (search) focused on the prosecution's allegations that Jackson has a history of inappropriate behavior with boys and he portrayed Jackson's Neverland ranch as a predator's lair.
The prosecutor told jurors they would probably ask themselves why Jackson would molest his accuser.
"Because he could," said Zonen. "... This child was in love with him. This child would do anything he said."
Zonen said the California Legislature passed a law allowing prosecutors to introduce evidence of past conduct specifically in molestation cases because such crimes are often committed in private, and Neverland provided an unusual degree of privacy.
"We're talking about the privacy of literally a fortress," Zonen said.
The family accusing Jackson of child molestation and other crimes is trying to pull "the biggest con of their careers" and has created a "nightmare" for the pop star, Jackson's attorney said Friday in his final argument to the jury.
"They just need you to help them," attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search) told the jury on the second day of closing arguments.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it only takes one lie under oath to throw this case out of court," Mesereau said to the jurors. "You can't count all the lies under oath by (the family). How many does it take to let you know this case is a fraud?"
The jury was also once again shown a videotape in which Jackson, who did not testify, explained why he spends so much time with children.
"I haven't been betrayed or deceived by children. Adults have let me down," he said.
After playing a half-hour of tapes, Mesereau rested his argument, saying Jackson had been lax with his money and had let the wrong people around him but was not guilty of any crime.
"This has been a nightmare for Mr. Jackson," the attorney concluded.
Flanked by sisters Janet and LaToya, parents Joe and Katherine and brothers Jermaine, Tito and Randy, among other family members, a solemn-looking Jackson arrived at the Santa Maria courthouse Friday.
Jackson clutched his mother's arm as he walked in.
"Michael's innocent!" came shouts from some in a crowd of about 75 people standing outside.
Fans, whose numbers dwindled to about 10 a day over the long weeks of trial, were back in larger numbers along with some prosecution supporters and political demonstrators taking advantage of the news coverage.
A total of 260 people entered a lottery for seats in the public area of the courtroom and 45 were chosen, giving them access for Friday's session and whenever the verdict is returned.
The prosecutor gave his initial argument on Thursday and was followed by the defense.
Mesereau resumed his argument shortly after his gaunt-looking client arrived at court after going to Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital in Solvang late Thursday or early Friday.
"He checked into the emergency department at our Solvang hospital, which is closest to his home, but he didn't stay," said hospital spokeswoman Janet O'Neill said. "It was sometime in the evening, but I don't have exact details of the time."
"Obviously I can't talk about why he was there for privacy reasons," she said.
A Jackson spokeswoman earlier denied he went to the hospital. Jackson's case was twice previously interrupted by hospital visits, once for treatment of flu symptoms and another time for a back problem, which led to a threat of arrest from the judge if he didn't get to court.
In his argument, Mesereau told the jury that prosecutors lacked a key piece of evidence against his client.
He said that in molestation cases police typically have the alleged victim make a "pretext" phone call to ask incriminating questions as police listen in.
But Mesereau said that Jackson's accuser, despite a willingness to call numerous celebrities in the past, refused during a police interview to make such a call.
Mesereau also directly attacked the boy's honesty, saying that a lawsuit in which his family received a $152,000 settlement from J.C. Penney began when the boy was caught shoplifting.
The boy and his mother were key players in the lawsuit, Mesereau said.
While prosecutors have tried to suggest that the boy's father was responsible for the family's cons, Mesereau said, the boy was like "a bull in the china shop," constantly asking for money.
The mother was more sophisticated, Mesereau said, ingratiating herself with her targets.
"She gets to know you, she hugs you, she loves you," Mesereau said. "Then she tells you a tale of woe and she gets money."
Mesereau accused the boy of repeatedly lying under oath.
He noted that the boy testified that both Jackson and his grandmother told him on different occasions that if men didn't masturbate they might rape women.
"What are the odds of his grandmother and Michael telling him word for word that exact same statement," Mesereau said.
He noted that in the J.C. Penney lawsuit the boy stated in a deposition that his parents never fought, but he and his brother, sister and mother would later say his father beat them for years.
"This kid's lying at the age of what, 9? Ten?" Mesereau said, referring to the boy's age at the time.
The boy was also dishonest when he testified in Jackson's trial that he couldn't remember if anyone had told him to lie in that lawsuit, Mesereau said.
Mesereau said the family has a history of making abuse allegations. He said the boy once accused his mother of abusing him, the boy's sister accused her father of molesting her, and the mother accused store security guards of beating and groping her.
"These kids are being raised to make allegations," Mesereau said.
The 46-year-old entertainer 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 the documentary, Jackson holds hands with the boy and says he allows children into his bed for innocent, non-sexual sleepovers.
Mesereau played excerpts from the documentary by journalist Martin Bashir and from a tape shot by Jackson's videographer during the making of the documentary.
The excerpts included Jackson saying that letting children into his bed is not sexual and that he would never hurt a child.
"Your relationship with your children is spectacular and in fact it almost makes me weep," Bashir said to Jackson at one point.
FOXNews.com's Roger Friedman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.