When the defense rested in Michael Jackson's child molestation case on Friday, a very important issue that had been raised was lost. Defense attorney Robert Sanger as much as conceded that the pop star's children may not be his own.
Just before playing a taped police interview with Jackson's then 13-year-old accuser, both sides debated several motions in front of Judge Rodney Melville.
One of them involved what is known in court as the "Outtakes Tape." This is the video that Jackson's cameraman Hamid Moslehi made of Martin Bashir as he was filming his documentary, "Living With Michael Jackson."
During breaks in the Bashir filming, Moslehi let the cameras roll. With his guard down, Jackson discussed his children and his plastic surgery with Moslehi.
In each case, courtroom observers got to hear Jackson tell Bashir that not only were his children born of his own DNA, but that he had slept with Debbie Rowe to conceive the two oldest, Prince and Paris. He said for the third child, known as Blanket, he had used a surrogate whose egg had been fertilized with his own sperm.
As we told you in our April 27 column, our sources have confirmed a tabloid story that Jackson's children are not his biologically. But in court, this suddenly became critical, as the prosecution and defense argued about allowing the "outtake" statements to be entered as evidence.
That was when Sanger, quite startlingly, uttered these words on the record: "The circumstances that relate to the birth of the children wouldn't be admitted for the truth of the matter. Only his love of the children."
In a veiled threat, District Attorney Tom Sneddon told the judge that if statements made by Jackson from the "outtakes" were allowed in, he would call "experts" during the rebuttal stage of the trial.
He didn't specify, but certainly Sanger and anyone who was paying attention knew that Sneddon might show that Jackson had lied not only about his paternity, but also about his cosmetic surgeries, of which he says he has only had two.
There was, however, little question what Sanger meant about "the births of the children." If the circumstances as Jackson had described them could not be held out as true, then there could be only one other explanation: They were false.
Over the weekend, there was much discussion on all the networks about the tape that ended the defense's portion of the Michael Jackson child molestation trial on Friday.
In it, Santa Barbara detectives Paul Zelis and Steve Robel interview the then-13-year-old boy who became Jackson's accuser. After having seen the boy on the stand during the prosecution's case, this was still pretty riveting stuff.
Since his testimony, we have heard only how he and his brother are unruly hooligans and the offspring of con artists, hustlers and — in the case of the father — a wife beater.
The tape is damaging to Jackson in that any accusation like this, spelled out by the alleged victim, is shocking. The boy describes how Jackson allegedly molested him after giving him wine and says it wasn't the first time. The episode is set in Jackson's bedroom loft, and each of the participants, according to the boy, is in pajamas.
The jury was instructed to watch this tape not for the content, but for the boy's demeanor. They are hard to separate. The boy, who is about 5 feet 7 inches tall and no wallflower, indicates to Zelis and Robel that, at 13, he had no concept of masturbation, didn't know what an erection was and had almost no idea of a magazine like Playboy until they were all introduced to him by Jackson.
This might be possible in a Merchant Ivory movie about a neurasthenic British lad, but hardly likely for a teen with battling parents in East Los Angeles.
And then there was the boy's actual demeanor: He does not once cry or reach for a tissue. He seems embarrassed, but maybe more about selling out a friend than about being molested.
He is clearly upset when he talks about Jackson having changed his phone numbers in the past so the boy couldn't reach him. After he's finished telling his story, one of the cops hands him a soft drink and a straw and his mood brightens immediately.
Much was made in court about his composure. But the tape was more about shock than emotion. This wasn't "Ordinary People." No one in the room wept as the boy mumbled his story and looked to the ground.
Still, shock matters. The task left to defense attorney Tom Mesereau in his closing argument will be to push the jury away from what they know now: Jackson drinks and he sleeps in his bed with 12-year-old boys.
Mesereau must persuade these dozen jurors that even if Jackson did this in the past, he didn't do it with this boy. He will have to show all the inconsistencies in the boy's story, his court testimony, what he said in front of the grand jury and what he told Robel and Zelis.
For a New Yorker coming to a small town, Santa Maria can be a little like Pleasantville (at best) and "The Prisoner" (at worst).
On Thursday, this reporter got a ticket for jaywalking and had his car towed, all in the space of eight hours. Each was a drag, of course, and it didn't help that the jaywalking event was chronicled elsewhere.
But something else happened last week that didn't get reported: Some of us in the press were treated to a barbecue at the home of a local family. The semi-retired gentleman who invited us has been coming to court as an observer since this all started. His mom comes, too. He and his wife are superb cooks — she made a killer flan. There were some other court regulars who came to dinner, too. Not the Jackson fans who line the streets with placards, but a few locals, mature people, sensible and quite bright.
Our food was maybe the best we have had in three months, but the conversation was even better. Santa Maria (and the little town we were in, Guadalupe) is not the city that never sleeps. They depend on low-end mall chain stores for their shopping. The drive-thru Starbucks with a wireless hot spot is perhaps the glitziest retail development in years. There is a lot of fast food. Dry cleaning is cheap, but it takes a while to get it back.
But don't be mistaken: Our hosts and their friends are more sophisticated than a lot of big city types. They've lived with Michael Jackson's calamities and scandals for a dozen years or more and they are not without well-formed opinions on this subject. But they are also open-minded and they want to see justice here, regardless of gossip or local rumors. It's been a pleasure getting to know them. It's probably the best thing that's come out of this trial so far.