Jacko Prosecution Witness May Have Flipped
The conspiracy part of the Michael Jackson case may be over before it starts. It's become apparent to trial watchers that prosecutors are backing off from a big piece of their original indictment — the one that included five unnamed co-conspirators who they said held Jackson's accuser's family hostage and planned to take them to Brazil.
One big reason the conspiracy part of the case may be dead in the water: I am told that one of the five, Vincent Amen, recently met with prosecutors secretly. Without an indictment or subpoena hanging over his head, Amen was apparently persuaded by his attorneys to meet the prosecutors in the case and answer questions about the so-called conspiracy to harass and intimidate the family.
This might seem like a betrayal of Amen's friend, Frank Tyson, the Jackson intimate who brought Amen to California in February 1993 to work on various projects.
Tyson and Amen, who are both 24, were quickly assigned the task of watching over the accuser's family. Their duties included shopping, chauffeuring and babysitting. After about six weeks, however, the pair had enough and went back to other projects when a proposed trip to Brazil, among other plans, fizzled.
After the latest Jackson scandal broke, the pair seemed to be on the same page for a while. They even shared an attorney. But in the last few months, Amen — who did not have the family connection to Jackson that Tyson did — is said to have panicked because he might have big legal problems facing him thanks to the scandal. He changed attorneys and started making his own plans.
It didn't help that Jackson's team did nothing to reach out to Amen, my sources said. This was probably a huge strategic mistake, but one that is in line with other decisions. The Jackson team has not done much to reward loyalty at a time when the pop singer needs all the friends he can get.
Nevertheless, sources say that Amen's visit with prosecutors may have had an unintentional effect. At the meeting, Amen finally was able to explain many of the episodes recounted in grand jury testimony and in this column.
For example, Amen told the district attorneys how the accusing boy's urine sample was ruined on a drive to the medical lab. The boy's mother said Amen dumped it out, but Amen claims it fell over in his car. I'm told the prosecutors were persuaded that his stories were truthful. That causes a problem for them, however.
In associated testimony, the conspiracy part has taken a beating thus far. Tyson and Amen were said to have held the family for a week in a hotel in Calabasas, Calif. But this column reported exclusively that the family went on wild shopping sprees, to the movies and to many local restaurants. The mother even had a full body wax and a manicure. None of this is considered standard fare during a kidnapping. The family also made dozens of phone calls to friends and family, never mentioning once that they were in any peril.
The family's attorney, William Dickerman, dealt the conspiracy part of the trial a fatal blow when he was cross-examined by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau yesterday. He admitted to writing several letters to Michael Jackson's then-attorney Mark Geragos after the family left Neverland for good on March 11, 2003.
The letters, which concerned the return of the family's meager possessions from a storage vault, were called a "series" by Dickerman. But the lawyer never mentioned in any of them that the family had been "held hostage" or made to do anything they didn't want to do. At the same time, Dickerman indicated that during his many meetings with the family, none of them mentioned their "kidnapping" either.
In fact, Dickerman revealed that his first two meetings with the family were on Feb. 21 and 25, 2003. Amen drove the mother to the meeting on the latter date. On the same day, he and Tyson took the family on their seven-day shopping trip in Calabasas.
At no time during the meetings with Dickerman did the mother or her three kids indicate there was any trouble at all. They were simply there, Dickerman recalled, to see if they had any rights for appearing in the Martin Bashir documentary "Living with Michael Jackson." They did not.
Two other witnesses made a big splash yesterday in the Michael Jackson trial. Cynthia Ann Bell, the flight attendant for XtraJet, continued the testimony she began on Tuesday. Bell, an endearingly kooky woman, often had the jury and the trial observers in stitches when, among other things, she accidentally slipped out of her chair on the witness stand.
Bell, who was unfailingly polite and seemingly without guile, said she was simply there to tell the truth. But it was clear she did not care for the accusing boy who, she said, was rude and obnoxious when he was a passenger on a plane she served on Feb. 7, 2003.
According to Bell, the boy threw mashed potatoes at Jackson's sleeping doctor, tossed his backpack at her and complained endlessly about his food.
On the other hand, Bell found Jackson's two toddlers, Prince and Paris, "lovely" and well-disciplined. She said Jackson did prefer to have wine served to him in a Diet Coke can, but that many of her adult passengers routinely hid their drinking from their children. Bell also insisted that Jackson was never drunk on the flight, although he was "intoxicated." She explained this meant that Jackson, a nervous flier, was calm.
Bell did recall that she served liquor to the accuser's sister, who used a fake ID (she was 16). Bell said that at one point the accusing boy, who was belligerent from the moment he stepped on the plane, sat with his sister and her teenage friend, who was also drinking. The intent, it appeared, was to suggest that if the boy had any liquor, he got it from them and not from Jackson.
Bell, who's got kind of a Suzanne Somers thing going on, cracked up the court when she said she would have to show the prosecutor what she meant by "cuddling" — her word for what Jackson was doing on the plane with the accusing boy.
District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss, whom Bell called "Mr. Gordon," asked the judge jokingly if he could approach the witness.
"Between the comedians and the lawyers in this court, I have to say I prefer the comedians," Judge Rodney Melville said later.
After her second session of grilling, Bell finally left the stand to near applause.
"I feel like I won the lottery," she said as she strode out of the room.