|June 13: Jackson's lawyer Tom Mesereau shakes hands with a member of the Jackson entourage in front of the courthouse.|
I finally spoke with lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau on Thursday in the late afternoon. He was kind enough to sandwich me in between his many media appearances.
No matter: He is the star of the week, having saved Michael Jackson from living for a possible 18 years next to Charles Manson. How can he be anything other than pleased with himself?
We talked about Mesereau's stroke of genius: playing the outtake video of Jackson being interviewed by Martin Bashir.
"It was two hours and 45 minutes," he said, "and it showed everything he was about."
Indeed, it also precluded the need, I said, for Jackson's own testimony. This was too perfect: no cross-examination.
"I intended to have him testify in the beginning," Mesereau said of Jackson. "And I was still going to do it. But the prosecution opened the door by playing the Bashir documentary, so we could do that. And you saw him talking about being in trees and playing with animals and all the rest. Come on — was this a man who could organize a conspiracy to kidnap a family to Brazil?"
Mesereau said he felt confident about the case from the beginning, especially about Janet Arvizo. He had already interviewed her for three hours in pre-trial hearings, he said, and knew what direction her she would take.
I offered that one of his more brilliant moves was to not object to almost anything she said in three days of rambling, near-psychotic testimony.
"You just wanted her to talk," Mesereau said. "It almost didn't matter what she said."
And talk she did: about "appeasing the killers," about body waxing vs. leg waxing, about Jackson's minions conspiring to kidnap her, about sending coded messages in conversations to her friends and family, about her kids and Jackson disappearing in a hot-air balloon.
All Mesereau did was let the jury hear it all, every bit of it, no matter — to use Arvizo's own word — how "cuckoo" it was.
Mesereau said he thought the prosecution lost focus early on, often concentrating on reminding the jury of the lead defense attorney's own deficiencies rather than on the case itself.
One piece of luck, he said, was that the district attorney insisted on switching the blame for Janet Arvizo's problems to David Arvizo, her ex-husband. The DA brought on plenty of people who described David as a rat.
"That made the case for us," he said. "Because you couldn't really separate them [in the jury's mind]."
In other words, the association was still there and reflected poorly on the family.
Mesereau thinks it really came down to the inconsistencies in the accusing boy's testimony. And that is why, he told me, he rested the defense case so abruptly.
"I told the jury in my closing argument, 'Look at the statements the boy made.' And you know, that's what they did, apparently, during deliberations. They went through his taped interview with the police bit by bit. And don't forget, they see the police on that tape telling him, before anything has been established, 'We're going to get Michael Jackson.' Did that seem right?"
Mesereau said he was not disappointed by any of the defense witnesses, even Dr. Phillip Esplin, an expert who backfired a little under cross-examination by the prosecution.
He said the only real surprise was the medical worker who gave completely different testimony than she had supplied to his investigator about the accusing boy's urine test. But even that worked out to his advantage.
I did ask him if any prosecution witnesses he examined, who turned out to be of help for the defense, surprised him.
"Not really," he said, explaining that he anticipated most of their answers. He even knew that Cynthia Ann Bell — the charmingly ditzy stewardess who uttered the famous line, "I had the best seat in the house: I was standing!" — would be an asset.
"I really enjoy doing cross-examination," Mesereau said. You bet he does.
What Mesereau would not talk about was limited to discussion of Brian Oxman, Jackson's personal attorney who Mesereau publicly tossed off the defense team in the middle of the trial, and Randy Jackson, Michael's brother.
After all, it was that pair who brought him in to replace Mark Geragos.
So we still don't really know if the reasons for the firing came out of the bail-bond scandal or something else. Then again, when I offered three different scenarios, he didn't reject any of them.
Mesereau will put in an appearance on Jay Leno on Friday to tell Jackson's side of the story. Then he'll take a much deserved vacation and "get out of town" for a bit.
When I mentioned that Michael was doing the same thing, he said that he hadn't heard of any plans. But maybe they'll wind up in Europe together.
(Jackson, by the way, on his way to Switzerland this weekend, will have to return for depositions in the Marc Schaffel lawsuit and for some kind of resolution in his family-court matter with Debbie Rowe.)
One last thing: What did he think of Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen, his chief adversary in the proceedings?
"I think he's an excellent trial lawyer," Mesereau said, and I don't think he was just being diplomatic. He really meant it.
I think we'll hear more from Mesereau once he's had his break and cleared his head. It's time to let him savor his victory. He did something almost no other lawyer could have done. I only hope Jackson appreciates that.
I've already written here about the great central coast of California and its environs. Now just a few words about some of the people we in the press came to depend on in Santa Maria.
First, law enforcement: Imagine that 2,000 city folk are suddenly dumped on a small town. You can imagine how much the people in charge would not looking forward to that.
Yet, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department welcomed us like we were old friends. Former Sheriff Jim Thomas, now a media consultant, is a genial and witty fellow who no doubt set the tone. I can't thank him enough.
And there were lots of other guys (and ladies) who knocked themselves out, including retired Sgt. Jim Carroll, a hog-riding, kick-in-the-pants kind of guy who regularly supplied us with cookies and friendship.
Leslie Avila had the unpleasant task of keeping the courtroom in order. Every morning she had to deliver a little lecture to the press and fans that got her no end of razzing. It was a thankless job, but she handled with grace and humor. Dennis, Tim, Darrell Porter, to everyone, our gratitude.
Santa Maria itself is not a culinary hotspot, with the exception of Café Diem. The ladies who run this haute cuisine coffee shop even installed Wi-Fi after the New York Post's David K. Li explained what it was.
For several weeks the ladies ran a special café inside the courthouse so we could get snacks during our 15-minute breaks. This turned out to be essential. And their iced tea was superb!
There are lots of restaurants in the general vicinity of Santa Maria that we came to patronize on a regular basis.
The Hitching Post in Casmalia, the extremely David Lynch-esque Far Western in Guadalupe, and the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach come to mind as highlights.
The little known Spyglass Inn, discovered by court artist Vickie Behringer, had the most magnificent sunset views. All of these people were good-natured enough to accept dinner reservations for 10 without flinching, even when the total number came to twice that.
But hats off to the area's one eatery that actually deserves a James Beard citation. That would be Chef Rick's, an oasis of sumptuous dining in the town of Orcutt.
Yes, Rick Manson's creation is in a strip mall, but you mustn't dwell on that. When the sun is setting and the mall is closed, Rick's front porch is transformed into a little outdoor café that suggests Paris with a parking lot. Inside, Rick's has a lively, bright décor with Latin overtones. And the food is to die for.
We have to thank FOX News legal analyst Jim Hammer for realizing Rick was amongst us. Once he did, our lives changed. With an exceptional and well-chosen list of local wines (this is "Sideways" country, after all), you often get to meet the owners of local wineries like Lane Tanner or Casa D'Oro.
The unusual and inventive menu is one-of-a-kind tantalizing, with favorites like catfish and chorizo gumbo, rich roasted garlic soup, shrimp-crusted sea bass and coconut beer shrimp "with really good sauce."
If only Michael Jackson had tried some of these places! But we did it for him.